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Open AccessArticle

Evaluating the Environmental Performance of Solar Energy Systems Through a Combined Life Cycle Assessment and Cost Analysis

1
Industrial, Energy and Environmental Systems Laboratory, School of Production Engineering and Management, Technical University of Crete, 73100 Chania, Greece
2
Department of Environmental Engineering, University of Western Macedonia, 50132 Kozani, Greece
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(9), 2539; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11092539
Received: 25 March 2019 / Revised: 20 April 2019 / Accepted: 23 April 2019 / Published: 1 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Circular Economy, Ethical Funds, and Engineering Projects)
The paper presents a holistic evaluation of the energy and environmental profile of two renewable energy technologies: Photovoltaics (thin-film and crystalline) and solar thermal collectors (flat plate and vacuum tube). The selected renewable systems exhibit size scalability (i.e., photovoltaics can vary from small to large scale applications) and can easily fit to residential applications (i.e., solar thermal systems). Various technical variations were considered for each of the studied technologies. The environmental implications were assessed through detailed life cycle assessment (LCA), implemented from raw material extraction through manufacture, use, and end of life of the selected energy systems. The methodological order followed comprises two steps: i. LCA and uncertainty analysis (conducted via SimaPro), and ii. techno-economic assessment (conducted via RETScreen). All studied technologies exhibit environmental impacts during their production phase and through their operation they manage to mitigate significant amounts of emitted greenhouse gases due to the avoided use of fossil fuels. The life cycle carbon footprint was calculated for the studied solar systems and was compared to other energy production technologies (either renewables or fossil-fuel based) and the results fall within the range defined by the global literature. The study showed that the implementation of photovoltaics and solar thermal projects in areas with high average insolation (i.e., Crete, Southern Greece) can be financially viable even in the case of low feed-in-tariffs. The results of the combined evaluation provide insight on choosing the most appropriate technologies from multiple perspectives, including financial and environmental. View Full-Text
Keywords: Life cycle assessment (LCA); carbon footprint; renewable energy systems; photovoltaics; solar thermal collectors Life cycle assessment (LCA); carbon footprint; renewable energy systems; photovoltaics; solar thermal collectors
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Milousi, M.; Souliotis, M.; Arampatzis, G.; Papaefthimiou, S. Evaluating the Environmental Performance of Solar Energy Systems Through a Combined Life Cycle Assessment and Cost Analysis. Sustainability 2019, 11, 2539.

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