The Swedish state owned energy company Vattenfall has a long history of working with life cycle assessments. In 1999 it was the first company in the world to certify an EPD in accordance with the International EPD-system, concerning electricity from Lule River. Vattenfall is still the only energy company in Sweden that provides EPD for its electricity.
Since the Swedish electricity system is built up of mostly nuclear, hydro and wind power, the CO2 emissions emanating from energy are relatively low. Vattenfall with its large amount of renewable energy in its Swedish portfolio is no exception, with an average of 1 g CO2/kWh direct emissions from electricity generation.
When approaching the area of emission reduction, a life cycle perspective is more useful as it allows us to see all emissions from the electricity generation, not only the ones from our own flue stacks. This is particularly important when it comes to low-emitting energy sources, says Sara Nilsson, an environmental advisor at Vattenfall.
One example is wind power, where over 95% of the greenhouse gas emissions emanate from the construction of the wind turbines. For nuclear power the uranium supply, e.g. mining and enrichment activities and fuel fabrication, is the most important part, contributing with over 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions from a life cycle perspective.
The results in the EPDs are used in communication towards customers and also by the customers themselves in their own communication and reporting. Beside this, the overall results are also used to drive improvements in the supply chain.
We have used the emission profiles in the dialogue with actors in the nuclear fuel supply chain, which for example has led to changes in the supplier’s electricity mixes, says Sara Nilsson.
In the recently published EPDs for nuclear power the greenhouse gas emissions from the life cycle have decreased by 30% per generated kWh compared to 2010, when the previous versions were published. This is mainly due to earlier termination of a contract with an enrichment service supplier that showed poor performance compared to currently available technologies. The emissions from the enrichment stage of the nuclear fuel chain were reduced by as much as 70%.
During 2014 we aim to enhance the requirements regarding environmental performance connected to fuel procurement in order to further drive improvements in the supply chain, says Sara Nilsson.
Since 2011 Vattenfall has also implemented the certified EPD process (in accordance with the EPD Process Certification) in its management system, allowing both for the opportunity to create new EPDs at a low cost as well as making EPD a natural part of its internal processes.
More case studies about EPD are available here.