This study explored the impacts of electricity allocation protocols on the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of electricity consumption. The selection of appropriate electricity allocation protocols, methodologies that assign pools of electricity generators to electricity consumers, has not been well standardized. This can lead to very different environmental profiles of similar, electricity-intensive processes. In an effort to better represent the interconnected nature of the U.S. electrical grid, we propose two new protocols that utilize inter-regional trade information and localized emission factors to combine generating pools that are sub- or supersets of one another. This new nested approach increases the likelihood of capturing important inter-regional electricity trading and the appropriate assignment of generator emissions to consumers of local and regional electricity. We applied the new and existing protocols to the U.S. primary aluminum industry, an industry whose environmental impact is heavily tied to its electricity consumption. Our analysis found GHG emission factors that were dramatically different than those reported in previous literature. We calculated production-weighted average emission factors of 19.0 and 19.9 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of primary aluminum ingot produced when using our two nested electricity allocation protocols. Previous studies reported values of 10.5 and 11.0, at least 42% lower than those found by our study.
CSS Publication Number:
electricity allocation protocol
greenhouse gas emissions
life cycle assessment (LCA)
Journal of Industrial Ecology
Colett, J.S., J.C. Kelly, and G.A. Keoleian. (2015) “Using Nested Average Electricity Allocation Protocols to Characterize Electrical Grids in Life Cycle Assessment: A Case Study of U.S. Primary Aluminum Production.” Journal of Industrial Ecology. 20(1): 29-41.