What is the environmental cost of solar panels?

The environmental cost or “breakeven point” of solar panels is approximately 2-3 years.  This means that the amount of energy needed to manufacture the panel is regenerated after 2-3 years of solar production of the solar panel.  The impact is thus minimal compared to the lifespan of solar panels (25+ years).
In order to evaluate the environmental impact of product, there are different environmental analysis methodologies such as Lifecycle Analysis (LCA), the Carbon Balance, and the Simplified Carbon Evaluation.

Standards for solar panels

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n the solar industry, standards are not only important to assure a quality management of panel lifecycles, but are also now often required in order to participate in call for tenders.
The engineering firm SOLSTYCE preformed a Simplified Carbon Evaluation (“Evaluation Carbone Simplifiée” in French) of our solar hybrid panel.  The results were excellent, allowing us to participate in major call to tenders organized by the French Regulation Energy Commission.
We explain these 3 methodologies in more detail.  

Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) ISO 14040/44

The Lifecycle Analysis is a multi-criteria evaluation that allows to estimate the environmental impact of a product or service throughout its entire lifecycle, from “cradle to cradle”.  It covers the carbon balance as well as other environmental effect such as toxicity, eutrophication.  It is a method that was widely used in Europe and that is also part of an international standard (ISO).panneau solaire acv

The objective of the Lifecycle Analysis is to highlight which effects are dominant or which elements or steps have the highest impact on the environnment, in order to move forward to reduce the impact.

In the case of a solar panel, the primary energy of a photovoltaic system allows us to calculate the environmental “breakeven point”.
It takes 2-3 years on average for a solar panel to produire as much energy as is used during the manufacturing process of the panel.  As solar panels are getting more efficient, the environmental impact is decreasing with time (source : www.photovoltaique.info).

Another important aspect of the Lifecycle Analysis concerns the recycling of solar panels, an industry that is today well-developed.  To learn more about the recycling of DualSun panels, please see this article.

Carbon Balance®

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The Carbon Balance®(Bilan Carbone® in French) is a single-criteria analysis based uniquely on CO2 emissions.  First developed by the ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency)  and then by the Carbon Balance®Association, the Carbon Balance®method is the carbon methodology most widely used to analyse products in France.  The method mesures the impact of CO2 emissions of any product, service, or human entity.  In France, the Grenelle II law article 26 states that the Carbon Balance®is required for many products.

As of October 2011, the Carbon Balance®is a licensed brand that refers to a specific tool and carbon method.  The use of the Carbon Balance® brand is thus reserved to the members of the Carbon Balance Association.

The Simplified Carbon Evaluation (Évaluation Carbone Simplifiée – ECS)

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The Simplified Carbon Evaluation (Evaluation carbone simplifiée – ECS in French) is also a French, single-criteria method developed by the French Energy Regulation Commission (CRE).  As its name indicates, the Simplified Carbon Evaluation is a simplified study (as compared to LCA or Carbon Balance) that allows to easily calculate the CO2 emissions resulting from the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic panels, from the extraction of materials to the assembly of the panel.

DualSun selected the SOLSTYCE engineering firm to perform the Simplified Carbon Evaluation of the DualSun panel.

The quantity of CO2 emissions per kWp* (G) is defined by the following formula:
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The Simplified Carbon Evaluation is required for CRE call for tenders for projects over 100kWp.  A grade is attributed to the panel after the evaluation is conducted and the grade represents 33% of the grade of a project.  Thus, the Simplified Carbon Evaluation is very important for these call for tenders.

The results of the evaluation show that the manufacturing of our hybrid panel emits 435.3kgCO2 per kWp.  G=435.3kgCO2 /kWp.

At DualSun, we are please to have obtained an excellent ECS score compared to other panels on the market (430-500kgCO2/kWp).  This is an important advantage for the CRE call for tenders.

bilan carbone solstyce ecs“The results of the Simplified Carbon Evaluation of the DualSun panel are very good, among the best of the market.  This demonstrates that the manufacturing of the DualSun is well-designed and requires low energy consumption.” – Nicolas Planchenault, SOLSTYCE engineer, ECS and LCA expert

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