An Approach to Prospective Consequential Life Cycle Assessment and Net Energy Analysis of Distributed Electricity Generation

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Increasing distributed renewable electricity generation is one of a number of technology pathways available to policy makers to meet environmental and other sustainability goals. Determining the efficacy of such a pathway for a national electricity system implies evaluating whole system change in future scenarios. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and net energy analysis (NEA) are two methodologies suitable for prospective and consequential analysis of energy performance and associated impacts. This paper discusses the benefits and limitations of prospective and consequential LCA and NEA analysis of distributed generation. It concludes that a combined LCA and NEA approach is a valuable tool for decision makers if a number of recommendations are addressed. Static and dynamic temporal allocation are both needed for a fair comparison of distributed renewables with thermal power stations to account for their different impact profiles over time. The trade-offs between comprehensiveness and uncertainty in consequential analysis should be acknowledged, with system boundary expansion and system simulation models limited to those clearly justified by the research goal. The results of this approach are explorative, rather than for accounting purposes; this interpretive remit, and the assumptions in scenarios and system models on which results are contingent, must be clear to end users.

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Original languageEnglish
JournalEnergy Policy
Early online date9 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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