Field installation versus local integration of photovoltaic systems and their effect on energy evaluation metrics Academic Article uri icon


  • In this study we employ Life-Cycle Assessment to evaluate the energy-related impacts of photovoltaic systems at different scales of integration, in an arid region with especially high solar irradiation. Based on the electrical output and embodied energy of a selection of fixed and tracking systems and including concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) and varying cell technology, we calculate a number of energy evaluation metrics, including the energy payback time (EPBT), energy return factor (ERF), and life-cycle CO2 emissions offset per unit aperture and land area. Studying these metrics in the context of a regionally limited setting, it was found that utilizing existing infrastructure such as existing building roofs and shade structures does significantly reduce the embodied energy requirements (by 20–40%) and in turn the EPBT of flat-plate PV systems due to the avoidance of energy-intensive balance of systems (BOS) components like foundations. Still, high-efficiency CPV field installations were found to yield the shortest EPBT, the highest ERF and the largest life-cycle CO2 offsets—under the condition that land availability is not a limitation. A greater life-cycle energy return and carbon offset per unit land area is yielded by locally-integrated non-concentrating systems, despite their lower efficiency per unit module area.

publication date

  • January 1, 2013