Clean Energy Choices: Resource Efficiency and Environmental Trade-Offs of Low Carbon Technologies

Project Overview

Today, fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while also polluting land and water. Options to reduce this pollution include energy conservation, renewables, nuclear power and the mitigation of emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  Electricity replace fossil fuels in buildings and transportation.

These options have various performance characteristics, including resource requirements and environmental implications. Many solutions work only in combination with others. To achieve a desirable outcome, we need to understand the characteristics and implications of different technologies not only at the level of the individual technology but the system level. This systems level includes:

  • the manufacturing and installation of energy conversion/efficiency equipment
  • the operations
  • the waste management
  • the role of a technology in the larger system, such as matching supply and demand

We have developed a global, multiregional life cycle assessment model to assess the production, operation and disposal of energy conversion devices in a scenario context. We are also developing assessment approaches more suited for energy efficiency options and consumer choices.

This project has already yielded a report for the International Resource Panel and Professor Hertwich has contributed to the assessment of the co-benefits and adverse side effects of climate change mitigation in energy systems of the IPCC.   We continue some work on electricity systems, but have expanded to include mobility and buildings.  In addition, we address material efficiency strategies.


UN Environment. 2017. Green Technology Choices: The Environmental and Resource Implications of Low-Carbon Technologies.  International Resource Panel Report.  S Suh, JD Bergesen, T Gibon, EG Hertwich, M Taptich. Nairobi: United Nations Environment.

Arvesen, A., I. B. Hauan, B. M. Bolsøy and E. G. Hertwich (2015). Life cycle assessment of transport of electricity via different voltage levels: A case study for Nord-Trøndelag county in Norway. Applied Energy 157: 144-151 DOI:

Arvesen, A., R. Nes, D. Huertas-Hernando and E. Hertwich (2014). Life cycle assessment of an offshore grid interconnecting wind farms and customers across the North Sea. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 19(4): 826-837 DOI:

Bashmakov, I. A., T. Bruckner, Y. Mulugetta, H. Chum, A. D. L. V. Navarro, J. Edmonds, A. Faaij, B. Fungtammasan, A. Garg, E. Hertwich, D. Honnery, D. Infield, M. Kainuma, S. Khennas, S. Kim, H. B. Nimir, K. Riahi, N. Strachan, R. Wiser and X. Zhang (2014). Energy Systems. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona et al. Genevea, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Bouman, E. A., A. Ramírez and E. G. Hertwich (2015). Multiregional environmental comparison of fossil fuel power generation - the contribution of fugitive emissions from conventional and unconventional fossil resources. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control 33: 1-9.

Dominguez-Ramos, A., B. Singh, X. Zhang, E. G. Hertwich and A. Irabien (2015). Global warming footprint of the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to formate. Journal of Cleaner Production 104: 148-155 DOI:

Gibon, T., R. Wood, A. Arvesen, J. D. Bergesen, S. Suh and E. G. Hertwich (2015). A Methodology for Integrated, Multiregional Life Cycle Assessment Scenarios under Large-Scale Technological Change. Environmental Science and Technology 49(18): 11218-11226 DOI:

Hertwich, E.G. (2017). Electricity systems.  Resource Efficiency: Potential and Economic Implications. A report by the International Resource Panel.  Ekins, P., N. Hughes, Nairobi: UN Environment.

Hertwich, E. G., T. Gibon, E. A. Bouman, A. Arvesen, S. Suh, G. A. Heath, J. D. Bergesen, A. Ramirez, M. I. Vega and L. Shi (2015). Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120(20): 6277–6282 DOI:

Gibon, T., E. G. Hertwich, A. Arvesen, B. Singh, and F. Verones. 2017. Health benefits, ecological threats of low-carbon electricity. Environmental Research Letters:

Gibon, T., A. Arvesen, and E. G. Hertwich. 2017. Life Cycle Assessment Demonstrates Environmental Co-Benefits and Trade-Offs of Low-Carbon Electricity Supply Options. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 76: 1283-1290.

Jorge, R. S. and E. G. Hertwich (2013). Environmental evaluation of power transmission in Norway Applied Energy 101: 513-520

Pauliuk, S. and E. G. Hertwich (2015). Prospective models of society’s future metabolism : What Industrial Ecology has to contribute. Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology. R. Clift and A. Druckman. Berlin, Springer: 35-58.

Pehl, M., A. Arvesen, F. Humpenöder, A. Popp, E. G. Hertwich, and G. Luderer. 2017. Understanding future emissions from low-carbon power systems by integration of life-cycle assessment and integrated energy modelling. Nature Energy 2(12): 939-945.

Singh, B., E. A. Bouman, A. H. Strømman and E. G. Hertwich (2015). Material use for electricity generation with carbon dioxide capture and storage: Extending life cycle analysis indices for material accounting. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 100: 49-57 DOI:

Sopha, B. M., C. A. Klöckner and E. G. Hertwich (2013). Adoption and diffusion of heating systems in Norway: Coupling agent-based modeling with empirical research. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 8: 42-61.

Suh, S., E. Hertwich, S. Hellweg, and A. Kendall. 2016. Life Cycle Environmental and Natural Resource Implications of Energy Efficiency Technologies. Journal of Industrial Ecology 20(2): 218-222.

Wolfram, P. and T. Wiedmann. “Electrifying Australian transport: Hybrid life cycle analysis of a transition to electric light-duty vehicles and renewable electricity.” Applied Energy 206 (2017): 531-540. DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2017.08.219

Research Team: 
Paul Wolfram; Peter Berrill; Industrial Ecology Programme, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Principal Investigator: 
Edgar Hertwich