Uncertainty Quantification in Life Cycle Assessments: Exploring Distribution Choice and Greater Data Granularity to Characterize Product Use

12 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2019

See all articles by Stephen A. Ross

Stephen A. Ross

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; Yale University - International Center for Finance

Lynette Cheah

Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences

Date Written: April 2019

Abstract

The life cycle environmental profile of energy‐consuming products is dominated by the products’ use stage. Variation in real‐world product use can therefore yield large differences in the results of life cycle assessment (LCA). Adequate characterization of input parameters is paramount for uncertainty quantification and has been a challenge to wider adoption of the LCA method. After emphasis in recent years on methodological development, data development has become the primary focus again. Pervasive sensing presents the opportunity to collect rich data sets and improve profiling of use‐stage parameters. Illustrating a data‐driven approach, we examine energy use in domestic cooling systems, focusing on climate change as the impact category. Specific objectives were to examine: (1) how characterization of the use stage by different probability distributions and (2) how characterizing data aggregated at successively higher granularity affects LCA modeling results and the uncertainty in output. Appliance‐level electricity data were sourced from domestic residences for 3 years. Use‐stage variables were propagated in a stochastic model and analyses simulated by Monte Carlo procedure. Although distribution choice did not necessarily significantly impact the estimated output, there were differences in the estimated uncertainty. Characterization of use‐stage power consumption in the model at successively higher data granularity reduced the output uncertainty with diminishing returns. Results therefore justify the collection of high granularity data sets representing the life cycle use stage of high‐energy products. The availability of such data through proliferation of pervasive sensing presents increasing opportunities to better characterize data and increase confidence in results of LCA.

Keywords: air conditioning, big data, design for environment (DfE), industrial ecology, probability distributions, stochastic modeling

Suggested Citation

Ross, Stephen A. and Cheah, Lynette, Uncertainty Quantification in Life Cycle Assessments: Exploring Distribution Choice and Greater Data Granularity to Characterize Product Use (April 2019). Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 23, Issue 2, pp. 335-346, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3365176 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12742

Stephen A. Ross (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
203-432-6015 (Phone)
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Yale University - International Center for Finance

Box 208200
New Haven, CT 06520-8200
United States

Lynette Cheah

Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences ( email )

1 Pesek Road
Jurong Island, 627833
Singapore

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