Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Trough and Tower Concentrating Solar Power Electricity Generation: Systematic Review and Harmonization

John J. Burkhardt, Garvin Heath, Elliot Cohen

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130 Scopus Citations


In reviewing life cycle assessment (LCA) literature of utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) systems, this analysis focuses on reducing variability and clarifying the central tendency of published estimates of life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through a meta-analytical process called harmonization. From 125 references reviewed, 10 produced 36 independent GHG emissions estimates passing screens for quality and relevance: 19 for parabolic trough (trough) technology and 17 for power tower (tower) technology. The interquartile range (IQR) of published estimates for troughs and towers were 83 and 20 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (g CO 2-eq/kWh), respectively; median estimates were 26 and 38 g CO 2-eq/kWh for trough and tower, respectively. Two levels of harmonization were applied. Light harmonization reduced variability in published estimates by using consistent values for key parameters pertaining to plant design and performance. The IQR and median were reduced by 87% and 17%, respectively, for troughs. For towers, the IQR and median decreased by 33% and 38%, respectively. Next, five trough LCAs reporting detailed life cycle inventories were identified. The variability and central tendency of their estimates are reduced by 91% and 81%, respectively, after light harmonization. By harmonizing these five estimates to consistent values for global warming intensities of materials and expanding system boundaries to consistently include electricity and auxiliary natural gas combustion, variability is reduced by an additional 32% while central tendency increases by 8%. These harmonized values provide useful starting points for policy makers in evaluating life cycle GHG emissions from CSP projects without the requirement to conduct a full LCA for each new project.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)S93-S109
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue numberSupplement 1
StatePublished - Apr 2012

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-50163


  • Dish Stirling
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Meta-analysis
  • Parabolic trough
  • Power tower
  • Renewable energy


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