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Dynamic Life Cycle Assessments of a Conventional Green Building and a Net Zero Energy Building: Exploration of Static, Dynamic, Attributional, and Consequential Electricity Grid Models

Collinge, William O., Rickenbacker, Harold J., Landis, Amy E., Thiel, Cassandra L., Bilec, Melissa M.
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.19 pp. 11429-11438
buildings, case studies, design for environment, electricity, energy, global warming potential, life cycle assessment, models
Our study assesses the differences between regional average- and marginal-electricity generation mixes as well as the variability between predicted and observed energy consumption of a “conventional green” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building and a Net-Zero Energy Living Building (NZEB). The aim of our study was to evaluate the importance of using temporally resolved building-level data while capturing the dynamic effects a changing electrical grid has on the life cycle impacts of buildings. Two static and four dynamic life cycle assessment (LCA) models were evaluated for both buildings. Both buildings’ results show that the most appropriate models (hybrid consequential for the LEED Gold building, hourly consequential for the NZEB) significantly modified the use-phase global warming potential (GWP) impacts relative to the design static LCA (49% greater impact for the LEED Gold building; 45% greater reduction for the NZEB). In other words, a “standard” LCA would underestimate the use phase impacts of the LEED Gold building and the benefits of the NZEB in the GWP category. Although the results in this paper are specific to two case study buildings, the methods developed are scalable and can be implemented more widely to improve building life cycle impact estimates.