Life cycle assessment of ocean energy technologies

Last modified: 
December 14, 2019 - 10:57am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2016
Date published: 10/2016
Authors: Andreas Uihlein
Journal title: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume: 21
Issue: 10
Pages: 1425 - 1437
ISSN: 0948-3349

Purpose

Oceans offer a vast amount of renewable energy. Tidal and wave energy devices are currently the most advanced conduits of ocean energy. To date, only a few life cycle assessments for ocean energy have been carried out for ocean energy. This study analyses ocean energy devices, including all technologies currently being proposed, in order to gain a better understanding of their environmental impacts and explore how they can contribute to a more sustainable energy supply.

Methods

The study followed the methodology of life cycle assessment including all life cycle steps from cradle to grave. The various types of device were assessed, on the basis of a functional unit of 1 kWh of electricity delivered to the grid. The impact categories investigated were based on the ILCD recommendations. The life cycle models were set up using detailed technical information on the components and structure of around 180 ocean energy devices from an in-house database.

Results and discussion

The design of ocean energy devices still varies considerably, and their weight ranges from 190 to 1270 t, depending on device type. Environmental impacts are closely linked to material inputs and are caused mainly by mooring and foundations and structural components, while impacts from assembly, installation and use are insignificant for all device types. Total greenhouse gas emissions of ocean energy devices range from about 15 to 105 g CO2-eq. kWh−1. Average global warming potential for all device types is 53 ± 29 g CO2-eq. kWh−1. The results of this study are comparable with those of other studies and confirm that the environmental impacts of ocean energy devices are comparable with those of other renewable technologies and can contribute to a more sustainable energy supply.

Conclusions

Ocean energy devices are still at an early stage of development compared with other renewable energy technologies. Their environmental impacts can be further reduced by technology improvements already being pursued by developers (e.g. increased efficiency and reliability). Future life cycle assessment studies should assess whole ocean energy arrays or ocean energy farms.

Freely available?: 
Yes
Summary available?: 
Yes