eTool LCA Software Updates – Autumn 2013

eTool LCA has been getting a bit of attention lately, and there’s some changes in the wind so we thought we would update everyone. An update on updates! Most of the recent changes have been updates to our libraries which are now getting pretty extensive.

New Electricity Grids

We’ve added a number of new electricity grids to our library to extend the reach of eTool LCA. The data was gained from public information which varied in quality, however where there was a discrepancy between reported direct emissions CO2 intensity, the fuel mix was updated to ensure consistency. Transmission and distribution losses are also accounted for for each individual grid, and upstream emissions associated with provision of fuels to power plants etc.

  • Ten new US grids including: Alaska, Florida, Hawai, Midwest RO, Mid East States, Northeast PCC, South East States, South West PP, Texas and Western ECC.  
  • Thirteen new European grids including: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Austria, Romania

At present in eTool software for life cycle cost calculations the electricity prices are linked to a grid, in development we are going to split this so that each grid can have a number of tariffs. We’ll also be introducing some functionality that enables a default grid to be selected at the project level to avoid the painful process of updating the grids after an operational energy template has been added.

New Water Grids

With the introduction of fresh water use as an indicator in eTool LCA, users now have the ability to calculate and compare the water footprints of their designs (embodied and operational). Further to this, the other impacts associated with water supply (take energy and CO2e to pump and treat water) are automatically calculated for users that add water use to the mix. The labelling of the “Demand” column in the operational energy section of eTool LCA is very clunky at the moment (the units state MJ or kL as we’ve got both energy use and water use in the same list) and we plan to separate this out into a new section on the design home page. In the meantime though, we’re excited about the ability to measure impacts associated with water supply and treatment and as of July 1st 2013 these impacts will be included in the standard eTool LCA scope. We’ve run some testing and there are some significant changes to the life cycle impact assessments results (particularly residential).

New Materials

Our LCA of One Brighton for BioRegional in the UK prompted a bit of an overhaul of our materials database, we’ve added a number of new material categories and individual materials (about 100 in total so too many to list). These new updates were a mix of generic LCA data (for example, much more granularity in blast furnace slag and fly ash concrete mixes) and EPD data. We’re happy to say that adding the EPD data was pretty straightforward and we’re now well and truly open for business for materials manufacturers who want to add materials to the eTool LCA database. Our stance on data quality at the moment is that as long ast he EPD has been registered with a reputable EPD program operator we will likely enter it into eTool software.  Longer term, once Europe releases the product category rules for the EcoEPD project, this is likely the methodology we will adopt. At that point we’ll give materials suppliers a 12 month grace period to update their data sets to match this standard.

Upcoming Changes:

As of 1st July 2013 we’ll be changing the way we account for a few things in eTool LCA. These changes are to ensure the decisions being driven by eTool LCA are robust. After all, it’s always been our goal that eTool LCA is used as early in the design phase as possible to make positive changes to designs, we don’t want it to be post mortem that just highlights lost opportunities!

The most significant changes will be the forward counting of electricity grid intensity figures. At present eTool LCA assumes the grids will maintain their current mix of fuels for the life of the buildings which is a very pessimistic forecast for the planet. Potentially in an LCA on buildings drawing from fossil fuel dominated electricity grids, this puts perhaps too much emphasis on reducing the use of electricity at the expense of increased gas use or additional embodied impacts. For this reason we’re going to account for depreciating fossil fuel.

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