Over the past two decades, the integration of environmental concerns into decision making has been gaining prominence both at national and global levels. Sustainable development now factors into policy design as well as industrial technological choices. For this purpose, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)–which evaluates environmental impacts of products, processes and services through their complete life cycle–is considered a crucial tool to support the integration of environmental sustainability into decision making. In particular, Consequential LCA (CLCA) has emerged as an approach to assess consequences of change, considering both direct and indirect impacts of changes. Currently, no long-term datasets of Consequential Life Cycle Inventories (CLCI) are available, particularly in the case of electricity production mixes.
A first and fundamental step to begin filling this gap is to make available data on national level greenhouse gas emissions from electricity and create a typology of electricity production mixes to support policy making. The proposed typology is based on the analysis of the composition of electricity production mixes of 91 countries producing more than 10 TWh in 2012, on the one hand, and of their calculated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (in gCO2eq/kWh) from LCA using IPCC 2013 data, on the other hand.
All types of primary energy resources are considered, and some are grouped according to similarities in their emissions intensities. Using graphical observations of these two characteristics and a boundary definition, we create a 4-group typology for GHG emissions per kWh, i.e., very low (0–37 gCO2eq/kWh), low (37–300 gCO2eq/kWh), mean (300–600 gCO2eq/kWh) and high (>600 gCO2eq/kWh). The typology is based on the general characteristics of the electric power generation fleet, corresponding respectively to power systems heavy on hydraulic and/or nuclear power with the remainder of the fleet dominated by renewables ; hydraulic and/or nuclear power combined with a diversified mix ; gas with a diversified mix ; coal, oil and predominantly fossils. This typology describes the general tendencies of the electricity mix and, over time, it can help point to ways in which countries can transition between groups. Further steps should be devoted to the development of indicators taking into account grid interconnection, energy sector resilience in the quest for a mix optimum. © 2016 Institution of Chemical Engineers