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Environ Dev Sustain (2018) 20:S129–S143

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation

in Portugal

António A. Martins1   · Marta Simaria2 · Joaquim Barbosa2 · Ricardo Barbosa3 ·

Daniela T. Silva3 · Cristina S. Rocha4 · Teresa M. Mata1 · Nídia S. Caetano1,2

Received: 13 September 2017 / Accepted: 18 May 2018 / Published online: 31 May 2018
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Abstract  This article presents and describes the LCA4Power tool, developed in this work
to assess the potential environmental impacts, as, for example, the contribution to global
warming, of electricity generation in continental Portugal, not considering the Madeira and
Azores archipelagos. Based on a life cycle perspective, the tool considers the life cycles
of various available technologies for producing electricity, on a cradle-to-gate perspective,
excluding distribution and final use. It was implemented in MS Excel™ using emission
factors obtained from the literature and other sources, instead of raw life cycle inventory
data. The current version of the tool includes wind and hydroelectric power as renewable
energy sources, and thermal and combined heat and power generation from fossil fuels
as non-renewable energy sources. The combination of the aforementioned electricity gen-
eration technologies is responsible for more than 90% of the electricity generated in con-
tinental Portugal. Results were validated comparing the tool’s predictions with data from
other LCA studies of electricity production, showing a good agreement, in particular for
the greenhouse gas emissions. As added value, this tool provides a user-friendly way of
simulating the potential environmental impacts of different endogenous energy mixes in
Portugal, thus support decision making and communication. Future developments of the
tool will include other technologies for electricity generation and its application to sup-
port decision making through the analysis of future scenarios for electricity generation in

* António A. Martins
LEPABE – Laboratory for Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy, Faculty
of Engineering, University of Porto (FEUP), R. Dr. Roberto Frias S/N, 4200‑465 Porto, Portugal
CIETI, Department of Chemical Engineering, School of Engineering (ISEP), Polytechnic Institute
of Porto (IPP), R. Dr. António Bernardino de Almeida S/N, 4200‑072 Porto, Portugal
INEGI – Instituto de Ciência e Inovação em Engenharia Mecânica e Engenharia Industrial,
Campus FEUP, Rua Dr. Roberto Frias, 400, 4200‑465 Porto, Portugal
LNEG – Laboratório Nacional de Energia e Geologia, I.P., Estrada Paço do Lumiar, 22 – Ed. C,
1649‑038 Lisbon, Portugal

S130 A. A. Martins et al.

Keywords  Computational tool · Electricity generation · Environmental impact · Life

cycle assessment · Portugal

1 Introduction

1.1 Relevance

Energy is one of the cornerstones of modern societies, fundamental to fulfill basic human
needs, as, for example, heating and cooking, or to produce most of the products consumed
in daily lives. Currently, most of the energy is obtained from fossil sources, such as oil.
This state of affairs has resulted in significant environmental, economic and even social
impacts at both local and global levels, of which climate change is considered the most rel-
evant. Thus, there is a need to develop new energy sources, renewable in nature, and with
lower environmental impacts (Dincer 2000).
Governments and other international organizations recognize this state of affairs, and
strategies/policies and practical programmes to promote the development and/or imple-
mentation of renewable energy systems are being considered. Examples include the sus-
tainable development goals—Goal 7 (SDG 2014), which state that people should have
access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, and the European Union in
the Horizon 2020 strategy defined specific goals for energy from renewable sources (Euro-
pean Commission 2010). Yet, this shift must be done minimizing as much as possible the
negative impacts. This requires an analysis of the current situation, in order to identify hot
spots that should be first tackled and to support scenario analysis for decision making and
policy/strategy definition.
Currently, it is consensual that the potential environmental impacts and/or sustainability
of a product or production system is better assessed using a life cycle thinking (LCT) per-
spective (Finkbeiner et al. 2010; UNEP 2011a). This way all life cycle stages are taken into
account in the analysis, avoiding burden shifting, and facilitating the identification of the
best options to be developed and implemented in practice. In addition, measures to improve
the system performance can focus on those steps with the largest impact. Life cycle assess-
ment (LCA) is a methodology routinely used to assess the environmental impacts of prod-
ucts/services and processes, and the ISO 14040 (2006) standard provides an objective
framework to ensures that LCA studies are reliable and comparable with each other.
Of the various components of the energy mix, electricity is one of the most relevant
energy carriers. It is fundamental to almost every daily activity, as most of the home and
office appliances use electricity as a power source. The importance of electricity in the
energy mix is expected to increase in the near future, as most of the renewable energy
sources used or in development/implementation generate electricity, and it is forecasted an
increase in the utilization of electrical based mobility (OECD 1999; Jarijaj et al. 2016; IEA
The LCA methodology was already applied to evaluate the environmental impact of
electricity production. A review of the activities until 1999 is available in a report of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (1999) that also gives some suggestions on how LCA
should be used and data needs. Of particular interest to this work is the article of Garcia
et  al. (2014) that developed a LCA of electricity consumption in Portugal between 2003
and 2012. These authors considered all life cycle stages and the importation of electricity
necessary to fill gaps in supply and demand. The study concluded that in the first decade

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S131

of the twenty-first century there was a significant decrease in the environmental impact,
mainly due to the replacement of fossil fuel-based electricity generation with renewable
sources. Hertwich et al. (2015) reached similar conclusions for future energy scenarios at
a global scale. Other studies dealing with the production of electricity on a national scale
include the work of Atilgan and Azapagic (2016a, b) that analyzed the situation of electric-
ity generation in Turkey. In particular, Atilgan and Azapagic (2016a) studied the evolution
of the environmental impacts in the period 1990–2014, having concluded that, although
the electricity consumption has increased significantly, some impacts, especially global
warming, also increased while others decreased. In a subsequent work, Atilgan and Aza-
pagic (2016b) made a sustainability assessment of electricity generation in Turkey, based
on the LCA methodology, concluding that hydroelectricity is the most sustainable option,
followed by geothermal and wind. However, for the UK reality, Stamford and Azapagic
(2012) concluded that no electricity production technology is clearly superior, and a mix
of different technologies is the best option. Santoyo-Castelazao et al. (2011) analyzed elec-
tricity generation in Mexico, concluding that the contribution of renewable sources to the
overall carbon emissions is small.
Turconi et al. (2013) reviewed the application of LCA to different electricity generation
systems, both renewable and non-renewable. The authors refer that an indicator based on
the overall greenhouse gas emissions is adequate to assess the environmental performance
of each technology. Moreover, they concluded that most of the environmental impacts
result from the operation life cycle stage, and more work is needed to reduce data variabil-
ity, a key aspect to ensure more objective environmental impact assessments and facilitate
decision making. Bhat and Prakash (2009) studied the equivalent carbon emissions associ-
ated with various renewable technologies using the LCA methodology, concluding that the
best option strongly depends on the local conditions.

1.2 Available tools

Besides LCA and sustainability studies of electricity generation systems or technologies,

in recent years various computational tools were developed to assess the environmental
impacts of electricity production. Table 1 presents some examples of tools proposed in the
literature or freely available in the Internet to assess the environmental impacts of electric-
ity production. Table 1 does not intend to be a comprehensive list of all available tools and/
or methodologies proposed, but only to present some of the most representative tools that
can be used in practice. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also developed a set
of tools and frameworks to assess the impacts of energy production technologies, including
the life cycle’s environmental impacts (International Atomic Energy Agency 2016).
Briefly, it can be concluded that most of the tools can be assessed via the Internet, and
some of them can even present the values of the environmental indicators in real time.
Most of them only calculate the equivalent carbon emissions and consider only the elec-
tricity generation life cycle step. Data sources vary and include emission factors recom-
mended by international organizations as, for example, the IPCC Emission Factors Data-
base (http://www.ipcc-nggip​ Also, some tools use regional or
country specific data, limiting their applicability when used in other settings.
The focus on the equivalent carbon emissions is understandable, as it is considered one
of the most important indicators, and most strategies and/or policies to mitigate the effects
of climate are based on it, as the goals are expressed in terms of reduction in carbon emis-
sions. Yet, other indicators are relevant, and some tools are being developed to address


Table 1  Tools available to assess the environmental impact of electricity production
Tool name Impacts evaluated Data sources Advantages/disadvantages Reference/Website

Electricity Map Equivalent ­CO2 per Kwh Market information. IPCC emission Web based and real time. Complete www.elect​ricit​
factors or specific country data version not free. Considers only
when available generation
DRAX Electric Equivalent ­CO2 per Kwh Data obtained from UK power Web based and real time. Limited http://elect​ricin​sight​
generation units to UK conditions. Considers only
Eco2mix Equivalent ­CO2 emissions per Kwh Emission factors used by the IEA Web based and real time. Limited to http://www.rte-franc​​
French conditions. Considers only ix/eco2m​ix-co2-en
EDP Equivalent ­CO2 emissions per Kwh IPCC emission factors Web based. Limited to Portuguese https​://energ​​sas/apoio​
conditions. Considers only -clien​te/orige​m-energ​ia
EPA Power Profiler Equivalent ­CO2, ­CH4 and ­SO2 emis- eGRID database Web based but also with standalone https​://​y/power​
sions per Kwh version. Limited to US conditions. -profi​ler
Considers only generation
GLIMPSE Environmental and economic Life cycle data and other informa- Combines several tools. Not web Aktar et al. (2013)
indicators tion based
Energeo Various environmental indicators Life cycle data and other informa- Takes in account the life cycle. Web http://www.energ​eo-proje​
tion based tool Ménard et al. (2011)
A. A. Martins et al.
Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S133

them, as, for example, the EPA Power Profiler and Energeo. The available tools are start-
ing to include other tools and methodologies, as, for example, LCA and economic evalua-
tion methodologies, to perform a sustainable evaluation of electricity production, being an
example the GLIMPSE tool (Aktar et al. 2013).
The aforementioned studies are valuable and can be used, for example, to support deci-
sion making or to identify hot spots that should be considered on a cost–benefit point of
view. However, they are not easy to use and most have a limited scope, not allowing, for
example, to assess how the relative importance of the various electricity generation tech-
nologies contributes to the overall environmental impact. The availability of good tools is
essential, not only to assess the environmental impact of current and future electricity pro-
duction technologies, but also to properly manage how they are deployed and operated. For
example, climate change may impact the efficiency and how renewable electricity genera-
tion systems can be properly operated (Wenz et al. 2017), and there is a need for objective
and easy to use tools to address those issues.
To fill this gap, a preliminary version of an Excel™-based tool for the evaluation of the
environmental impact of Portuguese endogenous electricity generation is presented in this
work, using data from the literature and other sources, considering the life cycle steps of
each technology. Thus, it is much easier to study, for example, the influence of using dif-
ferent mixes of electricity-producing technologies, and a more objective assessment of the
Portuguese situation can be made, without the influence of imported energy.

1.3 Characterization of electricity generation in Portugal

On an endogenous resources perspective, Portugal does not have significant fossil energy
sources. Thus, currently most of the country energy needs are satisfied using imported
fossil sources (Pordata 2017), particularly in the transportation sector that is almost com-
pletely dependent on them (EDP Energy Outlook 2017). Yet, Portugal has significant
potential for the renewable energy generation, in particular of electricity, due to its geo-
graphic localization, climatic conditions and topography. Since the second half, the hydro-
electric resources are being exploited, in order to generate energy to promote industrial and
the expansion of electrical network (Teives 2006; Rollo 2015). But, by the beginning of
the twenty-first century most of the hydro resources were exploited. Currently, the number
of sites available for the construction and implementation of hydroelectric power plants is
small; thus, most investment in renewable energy was switched to wind power.
Figure  1 presents the evolution and the relative weight of the various forms of elec-
tricity generation in Portugal between 2000 and 2017 (http://www.apren​.pt/en/renew​able-
energ​ies/produ​ction​/). It can be seen that in the initial years of the twenty-first century, the
overall electricity consumption represented by the black line increased significantly, but
in the last years the growth has been slower. The dominant forms of renewable electricity
are hydro and wind, with a strong increase in the production of wind electricity starting in
2005, due to the strong investment and government support to this form of energy.
Strong variations may occur in the electricity mix during a year, mainly as a result of
seasonal variation and climatic conditions. For example, the electricity production using
renewable sources is significantly larger in winter and spring when compared to summer.
Between years, the changes can be considerably large if a drought, as happened in 2017,
reduces the production of hydroelectricity, as shown in Fig.  1. The electricity produced
from fossil sources mainly comes from thermal and combined heat and power (CHP)
plants, using imported coal and natural gas. Also, the relative importance of the electricity

S134 A. A. Martins et al.

Fig. 1  Electricity consumption and generation by type in Portugal between 2000 and 2017 (http://www.

imports lowered (Costa 2014), due to the increase in the production of renewable energy
and a better management of the balance between production and consumption.
Currently, Portugal is considered a case study for the successful exploitation of renewa-
ble energy sources, most of it electricity. In terms of penetration of renewable energy in the
overall energy mix, Portugal is at the forefront, in particular, in the quota of wind energy
in the overall energy production (APREN 2013; Ren21 2017). Depending on the climatic
conditions, it is enough to fulfill the Portuguese needs (The Guardian 2016) for small peri-
ods of time, especially if the winter or spring is particularly rainy and windy. A complete
description of the Portuguese renewable energy sector can be found in the INEGI Web site
(http://e2p.inegi​, in which it is possible to observe that the renewable production in
Portugal depends on the geographic conditions. In particular, most of the hydroelectric and
wind power is generated in the north and the solar/photovoltaic in the south.
Concerning the future evolution of electricity generation there work still is necessary
to ensure the accomplishment of the goal of 60% of renewable electricity set for year 2020
(European Commission 2010), as in some years the objective is not fulfilled (Costa 2014).
It is forecasted that renewable electricity production will double until 2030, reducing the
fossil fuels consumption and following the expected energy consumption increase (DGEG
2016). There are two main reasons supporting this prediction. First, renewable energy sys-
tems are endogenous, thus reducing the dependence from non-national resources, and there
is potential for growth, in particular in photovoltaic energy that represents less than 1%
of the total electricity production in Portugal (Garcia et al. 2014). This fact explains why,
among the various renewable energy sources, photovoltaics (PV) is the energy form which
is increasing the most in the Portuguese context and also following the global tendencies in
renewable energy generation (IEA 2016, 2017). Besides helping fulfill the goals for renew-
able energy production, the increase in the production of electricity using PV may help
settle the variations in the energy mix due to climatic conditions. Particularly, while wind
and hydroelectric electricity generation are smaller in summer, PV is more efficient and
can compensate for the reductions. Second, there is a political will, at European level, to
promote and develop renewable energy systems. In particular, Portugal is committed to
reach 30% of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2020, a goal still not reached,

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S135

and a national plan was devised and is being implemented (DGEG 2016). To fulfill this
goal, it is necessary to increase the production of renewable electricity that will result in
clear economic, environmental and even social benefits (IPCC 2014). Currently, the Por-
tuguese has several programs in place to try to reach this goal, taking into account various
aspects, ranging from the promotion of energy efficiency to the support of the development
and implementation of renewable energy systems, in many cases combined with European
Union programs in the area.

2 Tool description and implementation

2.1 Methodology

The MS Excel™-based tool developed and presented in this work, henceforth named
LCA4Power tool, is based on life cycle thinking (LCT), currently seen as the most adequate
approach to evaluate the environmental performance and sustainability of a product or pro-
cess. The tool structure closely follows the LCA methodology as described in ISO 14040
and ISO 14044 standards (2006). A full description of how LCA works is outside the scope
of this work and can be found elsewhere (Matthews et al. 2015).
When performing a LCT study of a given product or process, based on the LCA method-
ology, it is essential to frame it from the beginning. This corresponds to defining the goals
and scope for the study, including the functional unit and system boundary, as described in
the LCA methodology. Figure 2 presents the main assumptions and definitions considered

Functional unit 1 kWh of electricity produced

"Cradle-to-gate"- life cycle stages from extraction of raw materials,

Scope and production of process equipment, transportation to construction
system boundary site, construction, operation and maintenance.
Energy distribution and consumption not considered.

Mainland Portugal. Excluded Azores and Madeira

Geographical coverage archipelagos and imported electricity

Modelling approach Attributional

EIA methodology CML as far as possible

Wind and hydroelectric power, thermal and combined heat
Technologies considered and power generation

Time frame Best available technologies in the near future, 10 years

Global warming potential/GWP (g CO2 eq.kWh-1)

Acidification potential/AP (mg SO2 eq.kWh-1)
Indicators Eutrophication potential/EP (mg PO43- eq.kWh-1)
Photochemical ozone creation potential/POCP (mg C2H4 eq.kWh-1)
Ozone depletion potential/ODP (µg CFC-11 eq.kWh-1)

Fig. 2  Main assumptions and definitions incorporated in the LCA4Power tool

S136 A. A. Martins et al.

for developing the tool described in this work. They will assist in the task of searching and
gathering the data necessary to evaluate the environmental impacts and can be changed in
the future as more aspects of electricity generation in Portugal are accounted for.
The main objective of this study is to evaluate of the potential environmental impacts of
electricity production in mainland Portugal. Therefore, electricity imports are not consid-
ered, as they include environmental impacts generated outside mainland Portugal, making
the tool not representative when the share of imports is significant. Moreover, the energy
production in the Azores and Madeira archipelagos is not included in the tool as those
regions are completely separated from mainland Portugal and their energy mix is com-
pletely different. The four technologies of electricity generation considered in the present
study represent, most of the times, more than 90% of the overall electricity production in
Portugal, thus ensuring that the results are representative of the current situation.
The functional unit chosen for this study is 1 kWh of electricity produced, as it is the
most common electricity measure and also a direct measure of the system performance.
The same functional unit is used in other LCA studies and online calculators, thus facilitat-
ing the comparison.
Concerning the time frame, the tool takes into account the current best available
technologies for electricity generation and that are expected to be dominant in the near
future, during 10 years at least. In the definition of the system boundaries, a cradle-to-gate
approach is considered, involving the life cycle stages from the extraction of raw materi-
als, construction and implementation, operation and maintenance of the renewable energy
systems and final decommissioning, as shown in Fig. 3. Therefore, the life cycle of elec-
tricity generation starts with the extraction, transportation and processing of all materi-
als and energy necessary to generate electrical power. Two different situations are consid-
ered separately: the construction of equipment and assembling of the production units and
the production and processing of energy sources, either fossil or renewable. The first case
occurs only ounce in the life cycle, and the second happens through the power unit lifetime
operation. The remaining life cycle stages correspond to electricity generation, including
operation, maintenance and parts replacement. When the power unit reaches the end of its
operational lifetime, it is decommissioned, which involves dismantling the process units,
recycle any valuable materials, adequately process other wastes and soil decontamination if
necessary. Distribution and final consumption are not included in the tool, because the dis-
tribution network in mainland Portugal mixes national production with imports, in which
specific contributions are impossible to separate.
An attributional approach was implemented in the tool, as the inputs, outputs and poten-
tial environmental impacts are expressed/attributed to the functional unit (UNEP 2011b;
Curran 2017). Moreover, almost of the data available in the literature correspond to LCA

CO 2 CO 2 CO 2
CO 2

Extraction Transportation Construction


CO 2 CO 2 CO 2

Decommissioning Maintenance Operation

Fig. 3  Life cycle of electricity generation

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S137

studies in which an attributional approach was considered. Thus, to be consistent, the tool
follows a similar approach.
The environmental indicators considered in this work are based on the analysis of the
most relevant environmental impacts associated with electricity production (Martins et al.
2007; Mata et  al. 2012, 2015; Garcia et  al. 2014). An indicator measuring the contribu-
tion to climate change, determined in terms of global warming potential, is almost obliga-
tory, as fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy
sources are normally compared against them. Moreover, one of the main goals of current
development policies and strategies to promote sustainable development explicitly defines
reduction in the overall carbon emissions; thus, a direct measure is necessary. Also, com-
bustion of fossil fuels generates significant amounts of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, which
contributes to various potential environmental impacts, in particular, acidification, ozone
depletion, eutrophication and photochemical ozone creation, that ought to be considered.
Moreover, the set of indicators considered is rather consensual and used in many LCA
studies for a multitude of products and process systems (JRC 2011; UNEP 2016). Each
indicator is expressed in terms of the mass quantity of a representative chemical com-
pound, as shown in Table 1, a standard form that facilitates the comparison between differ-
ent product/process systems with the same function.
To calculate the potential environmental impacts, life cycle inventory data are required
for each life cycle stage, consisting of inputs and outputs of materials and energy associ-
ated with each technology. This approach is very time-consuming and requires a lot of
resources. A simpler and faster way is to obtain information from the literature, inventory
life cycle databases or other sources in the form of emission factors for each indicator,
calculated as a function of the functional unit, and reported in LCA studies performed for
each energy generation source considered in this study. This way the LCA4Power tool can
serve its main purpose of a simple and easy to use tool, reducing and simplifying the input
of information required to work with it. However, this is also a drawback, as the emission
factors available in the literature could have been obtained using a variety of environmental
impacts assessment methodologies, applicable to different systems and even geographic
conditions (ILCD 2010; Menoufi 2011). No objective criteria exist for the selection of
the most adequate emission factors to a given product or process, even though for some
more consensual environmental impact categories the same methodologies are used, as, for
example, to assess the global warming potential using the IPCC emission factors.
A literature review was performed in order to obtain the required emission factors for
each of the technologies implemented in the current version of the LCA4Power tool. Some
variation in the values of emission factors was found, resulting in the specific conditions
and assumptions made, life cycle stages included in the system boundary, and inventory
data used in each LCA study. To reduce the data variability and increase its consistency,
emission factors based on the CML methodology (Bruijn et al. 2004) and considering the
full life cycle of each technology were preferentially used. In future versions of the tool,
this question will be addressed in detail.

2.2 Tool description

First it was selected the software program in which the tool will be developed. Several
criteria must be accounted for; in particular, it should be user-friendly and extensively
used in practice and it should allow a simple and clear organization of the data and
calculations. Also, it should allow a modular tool structure to facilitate further exten-
sions and/or updates. Therefore, MS Excel™ was selected in this work to implement the

S138 A. A. Martins et al.

tool as it is the software program that better fulfills the previous criteria. Therefore, the
LCA4Power tool consists of a MS Excel™ document with several worksheets.
The global structure of the LCA4Power is presented in Fig. 4. It consists of two lev-
els. The first level includes three blocks: the front page, energy mix and results, and
change control; each one implemented in a separate worksheet. The front page presents
the tool’s authors, the tool objectives, currently available technologies and the tool cur-
rent version, and it is the initial worksheet that the user sees when opens the tool. In
the energy mix and results presentation’s worksheet, the user enters the energy mix and
obtains the values of the relevant environmental indicators. Thus, in practice a user of
the LCA4Power tool only needs to use this worksheet. In order to control the changes
made to the tool, for example, to identify potential bugs or errors made, a change con-
trol was implemented in which developers list all changes; for example, new technolo-
gies or data from new references added to the LCA4Power tool. In the second level,
each electricity production technology is implemented in its own worksheet that shares
a similar structure based on the life cycle stages considered in Fig.  3. In the current
version of the tool, only four of these technologies are implemented (wind, hydroelec-
tric and thermal and CHP), but the inclusion of new ones can be easily done following
the same framework based on the modular/worksheet structure that was adopted for the
LCA4Power tool. Between the first and the second levels, there is a bidirectional flow
of information. The energy mix information is necessary to calculate the values of the
environmental indicators for each indicator that are aggregated in the first level.
During the development of the tool, the emission factors obtained from the literature
and other sources are introduced in the worksheets for each technology, separated or not
by life cycle stage, depending on how the emission factors are presented. New data and/
or life cycle stages can be added at any time, and taking advantage of the MS Excel™
capabilities, the inclusion of new information is registered by the tool, facilitating the
version control.
To evaluate the potential environmental impacts of electricity, an energy mix should
be introduced in the energy mix/results worksheet (Fig. 4) in percentages. As the num-
ber of technologies introduced in the current version of the LCA4Power tool is limited
to four, the selection of any other technology, not yet implemented, generates an error.
In addition, the total percentage of each electricity generation technology must sum
100%. If not, it also generates an error. Other error’s controls were added to the tool to

1st level
Tool Energy Changes
description mix / results control

2nd level
Renewable Non-renewable

Wind Hydroelectric Other CHP Power Other


Fig. 4  Global structure of the LCA4Power implemented in MS Excel™

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S139

facilitate its operation, based on the implementation of specific VBA commands in MS

The calculation of the environmental indicators takes into account the variability of the
data available in the literature. Thus, for each environmental indicator, I, three sub-indica-
tors were defined, presented in Eqs. 1, 2 and 3.
ĪME = yt × ĪACV,t

∑( )
max max
IME = yt × IACV,t

∑( )
min min
IME = yt × IACV,t

where I is the environmental indicator (e.g., AP, POCP, ODP, EP, GWP), Imax ME is the maxi-
mum value of a given environmental indicator I in the energy mix, IACV,t max is the maximum
value of indicator I in the life cycle of technology t, Imin
ME is the minimum value of indicator
min is the minimum value of indicator I in the life cycle of technol-
I in the energy mix, IACV,t
ogy t, ĪME is the average value of indicator I in the energy mix, ĪACV,t is the average value of
indicator I in the life cycle of technology t, t is the technology (biomass, wind, hydroelec-
tric, etc.) and yt is the percentage of technology t in the energy mix. Each sub-indicator can
be used independently of each other, and when used together, they capture the data vari-
ability and the uncertainty, allowing other types of analysis as, for example, the calculation
of a range of variation for each environmental indicator.
The results are presented in tabular form next to the energy mix percentages for each
indicator. Other indicators can be easily defined and computed depending on the available
information, as, for example, the standard deviation associated with each indicator. How-
ever, the data incorporated in the tool are still limited and strongly vary depending on the
technology and life cycle stage, rendering the calculation of additional factors meaningless.
Thus, in the current version of the tool only the previous three indicators were considered.

2.3 Tool validation

As in any computational tool, it is necessary to compare the predictions made by the

LCA4Power with other tools and/or studies available in the literature, in order to validate
the results. The comparison should take into account the hypothesis and restrictions made
during the tool development. Thus, the work of Garcia et al. (2014) was selected for the
validation, as those authors performed the life cycle assessment of the electricity in Por-
tugal. The comparison is not direct, as Garcia et  al. (2014) also considered the electric-
ity transportation and imported energy, but it is possible to extract from their work the
required information, especially the energy mix necessary to used the LCA4Power tool.
In Fig.  5, the average, maximum and minimum values of global warming potential
(GWP) and acidification potential (AP) calculated by the LCA4Power tool are compared
with the values reported by Garcia et  al. (2014) for the period between 2008 and 2012.
The error bars presented in Fig.  5 were obtained from the maximum and minimum val-
ues and represent the range of variation of the GWP values based on the data included in
the tool. The average energy mix for each year considered by those authors was used in
the LCA4Power tool. The comparison shows that the LCA4Power tool predicts the same

S140 A. A. Martins et al.

Fig. 5  Comparison between global warming, GW (left) and acidification, AC (right) values predicted by
the LCA4Power tool and reported by Garcia et al. (2014)

qualitative trend observed in the results of Garcia et al. (2014), with differences between 6
and 8% for GWP. Moreover, the range of values calculated by the tool includes the results
of Garcia et al. (2014), showing that it can account for the data variability between tech-
nologies and studies available in the literature.
On the other hand, the average values calculated by the LCA4Power tool are always
smaller than the ones reported by Garcia et  al. (2014). This may be due, in the case of
GWP, to the inclusion of the transmission and distribution step that, according to Garcia
et al. (2014), corresponds to around 10% of the overall environmental electricity life cycle,
which agrees with the differences observed between the two, or differences in the data used
in the study. Also, as 2010 was a year with the largest incorporation of renewable energy in
the energy mix, the average equivalent carbon emissions were lower, supporting the con-
clusion that renewable energy sources contribute to decarbonize the energy supply.
Comparing with GWP values reported by online sites, the predictions of LCA4Power
tool agree with the values given in the “Live ­CO2 emissions of the European electricity
consumption” (http://www.elect​ricit​ Although the online tool only considers
the emissions corresponding to the electricity generation, the comparison shows that it is
the electricity generation step that contributes most to the GWP. Moreover, it is also possi-
ble to conclude that, to evaluate the equivalent carbon emissions resulting from electricity
production, the LCA4Power tool is adequate.
For other environmental indicators, such as acidification potential (AP), the compari-
son between the LCA4Power tool and the work of Garcia et al. (2014) shows some differ-
ences in values. Although the same qualitative behavior is observed and the range of val-
ues calculated is adequate, the LCA4Power tool generates higher values for this indicator,
with differences ranging from 10 to 40%. This may be due to differences in the data and/or
impact assessment methodologies between the work of Garcia et al. (2014) and the studies
from where the emission factors used in the LCA4Power tool were obtained.

3 Conclusions

A life cycle approach is presented and applied to evaluate the potential environmental
impacts of the endogenous electricity production in mainland Portugal, therefore exclud-
ing from the analysis the electricity production in the Madeira and Azores archipelagos
and the imported electricity. Four forms of electricity generation, wind and hydroelectric
(of renewable origin) and thermal and CHP (fossil), were considered, representing more

Life cycle assessment tool of electricity generation in Portugal S141

than 80% of the total electricity production in Portugal. The respective emission factors
were obtained from the literature. A good comparison was observed between the predic-
tions of the LCA4Power tool and LCA studies of electricity in Portugal, showing that the
tool adequately describes the Portuguese reality. As future work, other forms of electric-
ity production will be added to the tool, in particular photovoltaic, which is expected to
grow considerably in the near future and even energy storage of various forms. Also, the
transmission and distribution step will be included, to close the life cycle of electricity pro-
duction technologies. Moreover, more data, either emission factors or even inventory data
from primary sources, will be added, thus improving the quality of the predictions of the
computational tool. The inclusion of more indicators, in particular to account for the social
and economic impacts, on a sustainability perspective will be analyzed. Potential uses of
the tool include to support decision making, or the analysis or energy scenarios in Portugal,
helping identifying what are the best options. Presently, the LCA4Power tool is not yet in
the public domain, since it is still under development in a research project, to be delivered
on the schedule agreed by the consortium partners.

Acknowledgements  Authors thank the support of project LCiP—Life Cycle in Practice—LIFE12 ENV/
FR/001113 and thank the project POCI-01-0145-FEDER-006939 (Laboratory for Process Engineering,
Environment, Biotechnology and Energy—LEPABE) funded by FEDER through COMPETE2020—Pro-
grama Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização (POCI) and by national funds through FCT.
Authors also thank FCT for their support through provision of the research Grants IF/01093/2014 and
SFRH/BPD/112003/2015. The authors acknowledge Vitor Ferreira of INEGI for his assistance in the valida-
tion of LCA4Power tool.

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