Getting Started

The provision of energy is a key issue for both developed and developing countries and the selection of the most appropriate suite of energy production technologies for any nation is a complex issue that is dependent upon a variety of social, environmental and economic factors. Energy exploration and development may also be a direct driver of land cover change in your region.

If you choose this broad topic, it is recommended that you focus on the supply of either Electricity or Liquid Fuel and that you conduct a comparative LCA among different types of electricity or liquid fuel production. If you design your project around the suggestions below, it will be much easier for you to find appropriate data and complete the study.

For an energy LCA, it is recommended that you conduct a full LCA of the technology that you most favour for electricity or liquid fuel supply for your region and then complete two mini-LCAs of alternative technologies to ensure that an adequate context is provided. We recommend this approach due to the challenging nature of a full energy LCA. A full LCA involves creating your own LCA, including each phase and multiple estimates for all inputs and outputs. A full LCA requires you to closely examine a specific energy project and find data related to it. Extrapolation from other regions can be done if data is difficult to find. A mini LCA can be based on results from an LCA found in a published paper. For example, for a comparative LCA for the Three Gorges Dam, one might perform a full LCA for the dam itself and compare these results to a mini-LCA for coal, solar, or wind power in China.

The functional unit for an energy LCA will be any unit of energy (MJ, kWh, etc).

International Energy Agency

IEA Free Publications


If you choose this topic, you will be required to evaluate the environmental impacts of different sources of energy generation (e.g., home heating and cooking), that are most relevant for the region that you are studying. Possible options for electricity provision include:

  • hydroelectricity, coal, gas, solar, wind, biomass or nuclear.

In the published literature, data are available for all of these energy sources, enabling you to conduct a full LCA on one of these options. You will then be required to undertake mini-LCAs on two of the most relevant alternative electricity supply options for your region. Publications that provide a good introduction to these options are presented below. It is recommended that you assess the data availability and discuss you favoured options with Dr’s Gergel and McFarlane before finalizing your choice.

Hydroelectric Reservoirs    Shale Gas    Comparative Analysis of Nuclear Energy    Large Dams    Wind and Solar    Small Energy Projects    Wood Energy

Liquid Fuel

Liquid fuel options include: oilsands (in situ drilling or mining), offshore oil drilling and biofuels (see agriculture page)

Fossil fuels have been the historically dominant liquid fuel and, consequently, our dependence on liquid fuels has contributed to large amounts of global carbon emissions. An LCA can help to determine quantitative impacts and facilitate an evaluation of more environmentally suitable fuel sources. Comparative LCAs for a liquid fuel may involve two full LCAs – or, if deemed too difficult and agreed to by Dr’s Gergel and McFarlane, a full LCA and a mini LCA. Two full LCAs can be conducted when comparing different extraction methods for the same type of fuel, such as in situ drilling vs. mining for oilsand extraction or comparing among different biofuels.


1. Infrastructure can be ignored in most cases for energy production, but should be included in a hydro-dam LCA because of its large impact.

2. An input or process can be ignored if there is no data available for it, trivial in its importance, or way too difficult. E.g. power grid, local impacts of euthrophication, or infrastructure.

3. Transparency of framework is very important. State the boundary conditions, all inputs and outputs for each step and then search for available data.

4. Data can be used from other countries using the same energy technologies if it’s difficult to find data for your specific case study location.

Here is some ideas about Energy Innovation

Here are some starting references for energy LCAs:

Weisser, D. (2007). A guide to life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric supply technologies. Energy, 32(9). 1543–1559

– Jaramillo, P., Griffin, W. M. & Matthews, H. S.(2007). Comparative life-cycle air emissions of coal, domestic natural gas, LNG, and SNG for electricity generation. Environmental Science and Technology, 41(17), 6290-6296.

Cherubini, F., Bird, N. D., Cowie, A., Jungmeier, G., Schlamadinger, B., & Woess-Gallasch, S. (2009). Energy- and greenhouse gas-based LCA of biofuel and bioenergy systems: Key issues, ranges and recommendations. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 53(8), 434-447. 

Ansar, A., Flyvbjerg, B., Budzier, A., & Lunn, D. (2014). Should We Build More Large Dams? The Actual Costs of Hydropower Mega-project Development. Energy Policy, 69, 43-56. 

Pascale, A., Urmee, T., & Moore, A. (2011). Life cycle assessment of a community hydroelectric power system in rural Thailand. Renewable Energy, 36(11), 2799-2808.

Evans, A., Strezov, V., & Evans, T. J. (2009). Assessment of sustainability indicators for renewable energy technologies. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 13(5), 1082-1088.

Raadal, H. L., Gagnon, L., Modahl, I. S., & Hanssen, O. J. (2011). Life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the generation of wind and hydro power. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews15(7), 3417-3422.

Ardente, F., Beccali, G., Cellura, M., & Lo Brano, V. (2005). Life cycle assessment of a solar thermal collector: sensitivity analysis, energy and environmental balances. Renewable Energy30(2), 109-130.