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Energy and environmental life cycle assessment of a high concentration photovoltaic power plant in Morocco

Abstract

Purpose

High concentrated photovoltaic (HCPV) technology transforms solar radiation into electricity at efficiencies far higher than conventional PV cells. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the environmental impact of a commercial HCPV plant located in Morocco by determining the impact of this technology on a wide range of environmental categories. The results are expected to contribute to a better environmental design and performance of the power plant.

Methods

A complete life cycle inventory was gathered for a 1.008 MW HCPV power plant located in Casablanca (Morocco). The system was evaluated using a cradle to gate approach, considering 1 MWh as functional unit. ReCiPe Midpoint (World) evaluation method and Simapro Software were used for calculations. A sensitivity analysis on the life expectancy for 20, 25 and 30 years was also performed. Cumulative energy demand and energy payback time were determined for each scenario.

Results and discussion

The results showed an EPBT of 1.457 years and the following main environmental impacts: climate change 53.3 kg CO2 eq/MWh, freshwater eutrophication 28.3 g P eq/MWh, human toxicity 44.1 kg 1.4-DB eq/MWh, freshwater ecotoxicity 1.20 kg 1.4-DB eq/MWh and marine ecotoxicity 1.20 g 1.4-DB eq/kWh. Most of the impacts were associated with the extraction of raw materials and manufacturing of components, being aluminum and steel the materials with higher impacts. Normalization assigned the highest impacts to the toxicity categories, due mainly to the materials employed in the electronic devices and the aluminum used in the module manufacturing. The end-of-life stage had a significant positive effect on the performance of the plant, reducing the impact on each category by between 8 % (in ozone depletion) and 43 % (in particulate matter formation), due mainly to the recycling of steel and aluminum.

Conclusions

The power plant components manufacturing and the electricity consumption from the grid presented a high impact in the life cycle of the plant, implying a significant importance of the local electricity mix. An adequate recycling of the materials is recommendable, since it reduces considerably the impact of the system. The sensitivity analysis revealed a significant improvement in the environmental performance when increasing lifetime expectancy from 20 to 30 years.

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Acknowledgments

Thanks are due to BSQ Solar for providing the data. Thanks are also due to the European Commission for funding under HYSOL Project (Innovative Configuration for a Fully Renewable Hybrid CSP Plant, FP7-ENERGY-2012-1 CP 308912).

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Correspondence to Guillermo San Miguel.

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Responsible editor: Christian Bauer

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Corona, B., Escudero, L., Quéméré, G. et al. Energy and environmental life cycle assessment of a high concentration photovoltaic power plant in Morocco. Int J Life Cycle Assess 22, 364–373 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1157-y

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Keywords

  • Cumulative energy demand (CED)
  • Energy payback time (EPBT)
  • High concentration photovoltaic (HCPV)
  • Lifetime expectancy