I've been doing some reading up on the full cycle carbon footprint of energy production and consumption, and realising there's a lot of aspects that are frequently overlooked. One of these I'm wondering about are power lines. Over the lifetime of the power lines, including maintenance (and possibly management), what is the carbon production per kWh?

Solar parabolic array vs PV panels

The inspiration of the question is that solar parabolic arrays are reported to be substantially more efficient than PV panels, but given that PV panels don't need power lines if they're on your roof, I'm wondering if the carbon footprint of power lines make up the difference.

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    I'm willing to bet that it's negligible compared to the footprint of the production of the electricity that they transmit. But, a valid question. Not sure whether you'd want to consider this, but you could argue that the carbon footprint of the generation of energy lost in transmission is part of this, and that will be much more significant than construction, maintenance etc
    – Flyto
    Apr 20, 2015 at 12:25
  • @SimonW Yep definitely. I've updated my question a bit - essentially I'm trying to weigh up the scale efficiency of offsite electric production vs transmission efficiency of onsite production. So energy losses in transmission would count in my perspective.
    – andrewb
    Apr 20, 2015 at 23:09
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    The whole of life cost of the transmission assets should also be considered, as pylons etc have a limited life span and eventually do need replacing. Apr 21, 2015 at 9:10

1 Answer 1


From what I've read, the energy losses during electric power transmission are usually less than 10% of the original power. This loss decreases as voltage increases, up until a certain point when corona discharges make up for the increased transmission efficiency. When compared to the efficiency of the other parts of energy generation, transmission loss is fairly small. When it comes to maintenance, there are so many factors to take into account that giving an average number wouldn't be accurate, such as climate, type of transmission(overhead or underground), and materials used. Ideally, a wire should only have the one-time cost of construction.

  • Indeed there are a lot of factors, including distance travelled. Doesn't mean it's not worth understanding. Yep ideally one-time construction is needed, but that's definitely not the case. Overhead lines require frequent pruning of adjacent trees, and during a storm, (like the one I'm currently in!) power lines are often knocked down and require repair.
    – andrewb
    Apr 20, 2015 at 23:14

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