Publication Detail

Long-Term Shifts in Lifecycle Energy Efficiency and Carbon Intensity


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

Available online at doi: 10.1021/es3029268

Suggested Citation:
Yeh, Sonia, Gouri Shankar Mishra, Geoffrey M. Morrison, Jacob Teter, Raul Quiceno, Kenneth Gillingham, Xavier Riera-Palou (2013) Long-Term Shifts in Lifecycle Energy Efficiency and Carbon Intensity. Environmental Science & Technology 47 (6), 2494 - 2501

The quantity of primary energy needed to support global human activity is in large part determined by how efficiently that energy is converted to a useful form. We estimate the system-level lifecycle energy efficiency (EF) and carbon intensity (CI) across primary resources for 2005-2100. Our results underscore that although technological improvements at each energy conversion process will improve technology efficiency and lead to important reductions in primary energy use, market mediated effects and structural shifts towards less efficient pathways and pathways with multiple stages of conversion will dampen these efficiency gains. System-level lifecycle efficiency may decrease as mitigation efforts intensify, since low-efficiency renewable systems with high output have much lower GHG emissions than some high-efficiency fossil fuel systems. Climate policies accelerate both improvements in EF and the adoption of renewable technologies, resulting in considerably lower primary energy demand and GHG emissions. Lifecycle EF and CI of useful energy provide a useful metric for understanding dynamics of implementing climate policies. The approaches developed here reiterate the necessity of a combination of policies that target efficiency and decarbonized energy technologies. We also examine lifecycle exergy efficiency (ExF) and find that nearly all of the qualitative results hold regardless of whether we use ExF or EF.