Environmental Impacts of Solar-Photovoltaic and Solar-Thermal Systems with Life-Cycle Assessment

M. A. Parvez Mahmud, Nazmul Huda, Shahjadi Hisan Farjana and Candace Lang (2018). “Environmental Impacts of Solar-Photovoltaic and Solar-Thermal Systems with Life-Cycle Assessment.” Energies 11(9), 2346. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/en11092346

Abstract: The demand for clean energy is strong, and the shift from fossil-fuel-based energy to environmentally friendly sources is the next step to eradicating the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Solar energy technology has been touted as one of the most promising sources for low-carbon, non-fossil fuel energy production. However, the true potential of solar-based technologies is established by augmenting efficiency through satisfactory environmental performance in relation to other renewable energy systems. This paper presents an environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA) of a solar-photovoltaic (PV) system and a solar-thermal system. Single crystalline Si solar cells are considered for the solar PV system and an evacuated glass tube collector is considered for the solar thermal system in this analysis. A life-cycle inventory (LCI) is developed considering all inputs and outputs to assess and compare the environmental impacts of both systems for 16 impact indicators. LCA has been performed by the International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD), Impact 2002+, Cumulative Energy Demand (CED), Eco-points 97, Eco-indicator 99 and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) methods, using SimaPro software. The outcomes reveal that a solar-thermal framework provides more than four times release to air ( 100% ) than the solar-PV ( 23.26% ), and the outputs by a solar-PV system to soil ( 27.48% ) and solid waste ( 35.15% ) are about one third that of solar-thermal. The findings also depict that the solar panels are responsible for the most impact in the considered systems. Moreover, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis has also been carried out for both frameworks, which reveal that Li-ion batteries and copper-indium-selenium (CIS)-solar collectors perform better than others for most of the considered impact categories. This study revealed that a superior environmental performance can be achieved by both systems through careful selection of the components, taking into account the toxicity aspects, and by minimizing the impacts related to the solar panel, battery and heat storage.


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