Raising the albedo (solar reflectance) of streets can lower outside air temperature, reduce building energy use, and improve air quality in cities. However, the production and installation of pavement maintenance and rehabilitation treatments with enhanced albedo ("cool" pavements) may entail more or less energy consumption and carbon emission that of less-reflective treatments. We developed several case studies in which a cool surface treatment is substituted for a more typical treatment (that is, a cool technology is selected instead of a more typical technology). We then assessed over a 50-year analysis period the changes in primary energy demand (PED, excluding feedstock energy) and global warming potential (GWP, meaning carbon dioxide equivalent) in Los Angeles and Fresno, California. The analysis considers two stages of the pavement life cycle: materials and construction (MAC), comprising material production, transport, and construction; and use, scoped as the influence of pavement albedo on cooling, heating, and lighting energy consumption in buildings.
In Los Angeles, substituting a styrene acrylate reflective coating or a chip seal for a slurry seal in routine maintenance, or a bonded concrete overlay on asphalt (BCOA) without supplementary cementitious materials (SCM) for mill-and-fill asphalt concrete in conventional or long-life rehabilitation, induced MAC-stage PED and GWP penalties that substantially exceeded use-stage savings, primarily due to material production. Modified rehabilitation cases in which SCM comprised 21% to 50% of the BCOA's total cementitious content by mass (portland cement + SCM) yielded smaller total (MAC + use) PED and GWP penalties, or even total PED and GWP savings. Trends in Fresno were similar, with some differences in GWP outcomes that result from Fresno's longer heating season.
The modified rehabilitation cases using BCOA with high SCM content yielded total GWP savings in each city; all other cases yielded total GWP penalties. The magnitude of the one-time GWP offset offered by global cooling from the increased albedo itself always, and sometimes greatly, exceeded the 50-year total GWP penalty or savings.
In Los Angeles, the annual building conditioning (cooling + heating) PED and energy cost savings intensities yielded by cool pavements were each about an order of magnitude smaller than the corresponding savings from cool roofs.