Water and Carbon Footprints of Electricity Are Sensitive to Geographical Attribution Methods
journal contributionposted on 27.05.2020 by Md Abu Bakar Siddik, Christopher M. Chini, Landon Marston
Any type of content formally published in an academic journal, usually following a peer-review process.
Environmental footprinting methods provide a means to relate the environmental externalities of electricity production to electricity consumers. Although several methods have been developed to connect the environmental footprint of electricity generation to end users, estimates produced by these methods are inherently uncertain due to the impossibility of actually tracing electricity from the point of generation to utilization. Previous studies rarely quantify this uncertainty, even though it may fundamentally alter their findings and recommendations. Here, we evaluate the sensitivity of water and carbon footprints estimates among seven commonly used methods to attribute electricity production to end users. We assess how sensitive water and carbon electricity footprint estimates are to attribution methods, how these estimates change over time, and the main factors contributing to the variability between methods. We evaluate and make available the water and carbon footprints of electricity consumption for every city across the contiguous United States for all assessed methods. We find significant but spatially heterogeneous variability in water and carbon footprint estimates across attribution methods. No method consistently overestimated or underestimated water and carbon footprints for every city. The variation between attribution methods suggests that future studies need to consider how the method selected to attribute environmental impacts through the electrical grid may affect their findings.