Harvesting sunlight with photovoltaics (PV) is orders of magnitude more efficient than photosynthesis, i.e. growing fuel crops and other biomass. LCAs of PV electricity consistently show very low greenhouse gas and other emissions. At the same time, utility-scale solar PV has now reached the lowest (unsubsidized) levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) after wind power. This gives PV technologies a unique position in the battle against catastrophic climate change and other environmental impacts from the world’s energy systems. Combining PV electricity with energy storage technologies, such as batteries, overcomes the challenge of intermittency, but has to be assessed in terms of feasibility, cost, and environmental performance. Large-scale deployment of PV technology will also lead to large future volumes of PV waste, which requires good forecasts, recycling technologies, and end-of-life management strategies.
Bilich A, Langham K, Geyer R, Goyal L, Hansen J, Krishnan A, Bergesen J, Sinha P (2016) Life Cycle Assessment of Solar Photovoltaic Microgrid Systems in Off-Grid Communities, Environmental Science and Technology, 51(2), 1043-1052.
Geyer R, Fournier E (2014) Potential Rooftop Photovoltaic Electricity for Sustainable Transportation in California, EISG Program, California Energy Commission, Sacramento, CA.
Bumby S, Druzhinina E, Feraldi R, Werthman D, Geyer R, Sahl J (2010), Life Cycle Assessment of Overhead and Underground Primary Power Distribution, Environmental Science and Technology, 44(14), 5587–5593.