Comment on “Powering sustainable development within planetary boundaries” by I. M. Algunaibet, C. Pozo, A. Galán-Martín, M. A. J. Huijbregts, N. Mac Dowell and G. Guillén-Gosálbez, Energy Environ. Sci., 2019, 12, 1890
Algunaibet et al. (2019) reported an important and novel study linking planetary boundaries to individual sectors—in their case, electricity generation in the US—and explored designs that could keep the sector operating within a safe space. In determining the total emissions associated with electricity generation in the US, the authors multiplied electricity's life cycle emission intensities by the total generation. This method, however, commits an accounting error that can lead to overestimation. First, I use an example to illustrate, theoretically and conceptually, why it is incorrect to multiply the total output of an intermediate product, by its life cycle emission intensities. Then, I show that this overestimation error in the specific case of US electricity sector can range from 5% to 200% across different environmental impacts, using the environmentally extended input-output model of the US (USEEIO). Given the novelty and importance of their work, I encourage Algunaibet et al. to revisit their analysis using correct accounting methods.