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Overcoming challenges in life cycle assessment of smart energy systems – A map of solution approaches

Reference Type: 

Journal Article

Wohlschlager, Daniela, Hannes Bluhm, Severin Beucker, Johanna Pohl, and Magnus Fröhling. 2023. “Overcoming Challenges in Life Cycle Assessment of Smart Energy Systems – A Map of Solution Approaches.” Journal of Cleaner Production 423 (October): 138584.

Current research underlines the benefits of digitalization to integrate renewable energy sources (RES) efficiently and to coordinate generation and supply. This development towards smart energy systems (SES) includes emerging use cases at the distribution grid level, e.g., smart charging strategies for electric vehicles or energy management systems in buildings. An environmental assessment of such, however, is challenging. The standardized Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approaches seem insufficient since SES are emerging systems at the interface of digitalization and energy with multiple intended and unintended environmental effects. This article aims to derive solution approaches for LCA professionals that investigate use cases enabled by information and communication technology (ICT), specifically in SES. To identify challenges during the first two phases of an LCA and solution approaches, we examine seven recent research projects and conduct a real-time Delphi workshop with LCA experts in the field of SES. As a result, the article provides approaches on setting up an LCA, filling data gaps, and methods to draw upon the long-term impacts of use cases in SES. Key findings include a modified taxonomy of potential environmental effects. Results show that systemic effects in SES have potentially the highest impact on the LCA, followed by effects caused by user behavior. Assessing these effects of ‘higher-order’ poses an increased complexity. Determined solution approaches include combining the standardized LCA with energy system modeling or surveys on user behavior. Overall, this article reveals orientation strategies and recommendations to guide LCA professionals toward a holistic environmental assessment of use cases in SES.

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