Thursday, April 4, 2013

Energy Balance of the Global Photovoltaic (PV) Industry - Is the PV Industry a Net Electricity Producer?

Abstract Image
A combination of declining costs and policy measures motivated by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and energy security have driven rapid growth in the global installed capacity of solar photovoltaics (PV). This paper develops a number of unique data sets, namely the following: calculation of distribution of global capacity factor for PV deployment; meta-analysis of energy consumption in PV system manufacture and deployment; and documentation of reduction in energetic costs of PV system production. These data are used as input into a new net energy analysis of the global PV industry, as opposed to device level analysis. In addition, the paper introduces a new concept: a model tracking energetic costs of manufacturing and installing PV systems, including balance of system (BOS) components. The model is used to forecast electrical energy requirements to scale up the PV industry and determine the electricity balance of the global PV industry to 2020. Results suggest that the industry was a net consumer of electricity as recently as 2010. However, there is a >50% that in 2012 the PV industry is a net electricity provider and will “pay back” the electrical energy required for its early growth before 2020. Further reducing energetic costs of PV deployment will enable more rapid growth of the PV industry. There is also great potential to increase the capacity factor of PV deployment. These conclusions have a number of implications for R&D and deployment, including the following: monitoring of the energy embodied within PV systems; designing more efficient and durable systems; and deploying PV systems in locations that will achieve high capacity factors.