IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Life Cycle Analysis to estimate the environmental impact of residential photovoltaic systems in regions with a low solar irradiation

  • Laleman, Ruben
  • Albrecht, Johan
  • Dewulf, Jo

Photovoltaic installations (PV-systems) are heavily promoted in Europe. In this paper, the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) method is used to find out whether the high subsidy cost can be justified by the environmental benefits. Most existing LCAs of PV only use one-dimensional indicators and are only valid for regions with a high solar irradiation. This paper, however, presents a broad environmental evaluation of residential PV-systems for regions with a rather low solar irradiation of 900-1000Â kWh/m2/year, a value typical for Northern Europe and Canada. Based on the Ecoinvent LCA database, six Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) methods were considered for six different PV-technologies; the comprehensive Eco-Indicator 99 (EI 99) with its three perspectives (Hierarchist, Egalitarian and Individualistic) next to three one-dimensional indicators, namely Cumulative Energy Demand (CED), Global Warming Potential (GWP) and the Energy Payback Time (EPT). For regions with low solar irradiation, we found that the EPT is less than 5 years. The Global Warming Potential of PV-electricity is about 10 times lower than that of electricity from a coal fired plant, but 4 times higher when compared to a nuclear power plant or a wind farm. Surprisingly, our results from the more comprehensive EI 99 assessment method do not correlate at all with our findings based on EPT and GWP. The results from the Individualist perspective are strongly influenced by the weighting of the different environmental aspects, which can be misleading. Therefore, to obtain a well-balanced environmental assessment of energy technologies, we recommend a carefully evaluated combination of various impact assessment methods.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Volume (Year): 15 (2011)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 267-281

in new window

Handle: RePEc:eee:rensus:v:15:y:2011:i:1:p:267-281
Contact details of provider: Web page:

Order Information: Postal:

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:rensus:v:15:y:2011:i:1:p:267-281. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Zhang, Lei)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.