EME 807
Technologies for Sustainability Systems

3.0 Overview



In this lesson, we take a step further in the evaluation of technologies from the standpoint of environmental, economic, and social compatibility. Building upon the life cycle assessment concepts presented in Lesson 2, we will learn how to develop or select the metrics that would allow us to quantify the impacts and to decide on viability of technology projects. Metrics are important analytical tools when it comes to objective decisions, but they are not something predefined and ready to use. Metrics are meaningfully designed and tuned for a particular purpose, and it is the job of the evaluator to define that purpose prior to the analysis. This lesson overviews some of the methods that are used in environmental science and economics for technology evaluation. However, we are only scratching the surface here. Those areas of science are quite extensive and can fill whole books. So, while working through the basics and studying examples, be prepared to search further and specialize when you chose the metric set for your final course project down the road.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • understand different levels of metrics and their connection with assessment goals;
  • perform calculations of some environmental metrics / indicators and interpret their meaning;
  • review the fundamentals of the economic analysis of technologies. Perform calculations of some economic metrics using simple payback and discounted cash flow approaches.

Required Readings

Journal article: Brown, M.T. and Ulgiati, S., Emergy-based indices and ratios to evaluate sustainability: monitoring economies and technology toward environmentally sound innovation, Ecological Engineering 9 (1997), 51-69.

Press release: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Electricity Generation, NREL/FS-6A20-57187, January 2013.

Book chapter: Vanek, F.M. and Albright, L.D., Energy Systems Engineering. Evaluation and Implementation, McGraw Hill, 2008 –Chapter 3 Economic Tools for Energy Systems, pp. 62-75.


If you have any questions while working through this Lesson, please post them to our Message Board forum in Canvas. You can use that space any time to chat about course topics or to ask questions. While you are there, please feel free to post your own responses if you are able to help out a classmate.