Review on life cycle assessment of energy payback and greenhouse gas emission of solar photovoltaic systems

Jinqing Peng, Lin Lu, Hongxing Yang

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

524 Citations (Scopus)


This paper aims to examine the sustainability and environmental performance of PV-based electricity generation systems by conducting a thorough review of the life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of five common photovoltaic (PV) systems, i.e., mono-crystalline (mono-Si), multi-crystalline (multi-Si), amorphous silicon (a-Si), CdTe thin film (CdTe) and CIS thin film (CIS), and some advanced PV systems. The results show that, among the five common PV systems, the CdTe PV system presents the best environmental performance in terms of energy payback time (EPBT) and greenhouse gases (GHG) emission rate due to its low life-cycle energy requirement and relatively high conversion efficiency. Meanwhile, the mono-Si PV system demonstrates the worst because of its high energy intensity during the solar cells' production process. The EPBT and GHG emission rate of thin film PV systems are within the range of 0.75-3.5 years and 10.5-50 g CO2-eq./kW h, respectively. In general, the EPBT of mono-Si PV systems range from 1.7 to 2.7 years with GHG emission rate from 29 to 45 g CO2-eq./kW h, which is an order of magnitude smaller than that of fossil-based electricity. This paper also reviews the EPBT and GHG emission rates of some advanced PV systems, such as high-concentration, heterojunction and dye-sensitized technologies. The EBPT of high-concentration PV system is lower, ranging from 0.7 to 2.0 years, but the CO2emission rate of dye-sensitized PV system is higher than the ones of other PV systems at the moment. The LCA results show that PV technologies are already proved to be very sustainable and environmental-friendly in the state of the art. With the emerging of new manufacturing technologies, the environmental performance of PV technologies is expected to be further improved in the near future. In addition, considering the existing limitations in the previous LCA studies, a few suggestions are recommended.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-274
Number of pages20
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Energy payback time
  • Energy requirement
  • GHG emission rate
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Photovoltaic system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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