UNECE’s Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), produced this report as part of a project called “Enhancing understanding of the implications and opportunities of moving to carbon neutrality in the UNECE region across the power and energy intensive industries by 2050.”  It specifically recognizes that “energy is at the heart of all sustainable development. Although countries will support different energy technologies in various ways, we need to scale up sustainable energy urgently. The energy transition is critical to address climate change and ensure the quality of life targets are met globally.”

The report emphasizes that “well-informed energy policy design is key to reaching decarbonisation targets, and to keeping global warming undera 2°C threshold. In particular, low-carbon electricity provision for all is an essential characteristic of a 2°C-compatibleenergy system, as the IPCC shows that the most ambitious climate mitigation scenarios entail the electrification ofmost of our economy [1]. Therefore, understanding the full scale of potential impacts from current and future electricity generation is required, in order to avoid “impact leakage”, i.e. increasing non-climate environmental pressurewhile reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Life cycle assessment allows the evaluation of a product over its life cycle,and across a wide range of environmental indicators – this method was chosen to report on the environmental profiles of various technologies.

The study found the following GHG numbers:

  • Coal power – a minimum of 751 gCO2 eq./kWh (IGCC, USA) and a maximum of 1095 g CO2 eq./kWh.
  • A natural gas combined cycle plant – 403–513 g CO2 eq./kWh from a life cycle perspective.
  • Nuclear power – 5.1–6.4 g CO2 eq./kWh.
  • Hydropower – ranging from 6 to 147 g CO2 eq./kWh.
  • Solar technologies – ranging from 27 to 122 g CO2 eq./kWh for CSP, and 8.0–83 g CO2 eq./kWh for photovoltaics.
  • Wind power – vary between 7.8 and 16 g CO2 eq./kWh for onshore, and 12 and 23 g CO2 eq./kWh for offshore turbines.

Read the UNECE’s report, Life Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Options, published in October 29, 2021 and updated May 4, 2022. There are more than fifty figures detailing the findings of the authors of this report, nearly all of which establish the value of nuclear energy to global decarbonization.