Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Sarah Rogers

Second Advisor

Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Sean Shaheen

Fourth Advisor

Eve-Lyn Hinckley

Abstract

In order to understand the environmental impacts associated with solar energy production, a life cycle assessment (LCA) comparison of two panel types is performed. Popular crystalline silicon photovoltaics (PV) are analyzed alongside the new perovskite PV material, currently being lab tested. Each panel type is analyzed individually using the LCA life cycle inventory (LCI) framework to gather information on the cradle to grave impacts. Following these LCI analyses, the two are compared on the utility scale using the LCA impact category framework. Natural resource depletion, energy payback time (EPBT), contribution to global climate change, land use, and human and ecosystem toxicity are the impact categories selected for this analysis as they are the most affected by solar installations today. This study finds that perovskite PV low embodied energy decreases the EPBT of solar on the utility scale, however the current relatively short lifetimes of this material increases the global warming potential (GWP), as compared to crystalline silicon PV. Although perovskite PV offers large upscaling potentials through print manufacturing, it does not address the immense land stress of utility scale solar. The current international standard for conducting a LCA does not specifically address ecosystem services and biodiversity impacts. Further research into decreasing the environmental impacts associated with big solar is suggested.

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