Towards life cycle sustainability assessment: an implementation to photovoltaic modules
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The main goal of the paper is to carry out the first implementation of sustainability assessment of the assembly step of photovoltaic (PV) modules production by Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) and the development of the Life Cycle Sustainability Dashboard (LCSD), in order to compare LCSA results of different PV modules. The applicability and practicability of the LCSD is reported thanks to a case study. The results show that LCSA can be considered a valuable tool to support decision-making processes that involve different stakeholders with different knowledge and background.
The sustainability performance of the production step of Italian and German polycrystalline silicon modules is assessed using the LCSD. The LCSD is an application oriented to the presentation of an LCSA study. LCSA comprises life cycle assessment (LCA), life cycle costing and social LCA (S-LCA). The primary data collected for the German module are related to two different years, and this led to the evaluation of three different scenarios: a German 2008 module, a German 2009 module, and an Italian 2008 module.
Results and discussion
According to the LCA results based on Ecoindicator 99, the German module for example has lower values of land use [1.77 potential disappeared fractions (PDF) m2/year] and acidification (3.61 PDF m2/year) than the Italian one (land use 1.99 PDF m2/year, acidification 3.83 PDF m2/year). However, the German module has higher global warming potential [4.5E–05 disability-adjusted life years (DALY)] than the Italian one [3.00E−05 DALY]. The economic costs of the German module are lower than the Italian one, e.g. the cost of electricity per FU for the German module is 0.12 €/m2 compared to the Italian 0.85 €/m2. The S-LCA results show significant differences between German module 2008 and 2009 that represent respectively the best and the worst overall social performances of the three considered scenarios compared by LCSD. The aggregate LCSD results show that the German module 2008 has the best overall sustainability performance and a score of 665 points out of 1,000 (and a colour scale of light green). The Italian module 2008 has the worst overall sustainability performance with a score of 404 points, while the German module 2009 is in the middle with 524 points.
The LCSA and LCSD methodologies represent an applicable framework as a tool for supporting decision-making processes which consider sustainable production and consumption. However, there are still challenges for a meaningful application, particularly the questions of the selection of social LCA indicators and how to weigh sets for the LCSD.
KeywordsLife Cycle Sustainability Assessment LCA LCC S-LCA Photovoltaic modules Social indicators
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