The expansion of photovoltaic solar energy in the world is significant. However, its contribution to decreases in greenhouse gases (GHG) is not an absolute guarantee. In this context, it is necessary to evaluate its benefits in advance, considering the structure of the electric energy supply matrix of the country producing the photovoltaic solar system, as well as the country where the technology will be implemented. This study evaluates the adoption of renewable sources for electric power generation in a country with a high share of renewable energy. A life-cycle assessment (LCA) of a set of multi-Si photovoltaic (PV) systems installed in the Brazilian northeast (NE), was carried out. The actual generation data of 10 plants totaling 1.1 MWp installed capacity were evaluated during two years of operation. Energy payback time (EPBT), greenhouse gas emission rate (GHGe-rate), and emission payback time were calculated. The great influence of the electric matrix characteristics of the country manufacturing PV systems was evidenced in the results. The interconnected Brazilian electrical system had a 2020 projected GHGe-rate of 63.9 g CO2/kWh, while the results of 70% of the photovoltaic solar power plants (PSPS) assessed herein exhibit higher GHGe-rates. Thus, in countries where the electric matrix comprises a high share of renewable sources, such as Brazil, the incentive to use PV systems manufactured in nations whose electric matrix registers high emission factors should be well evaluated in terms of the impacts of GHG concentrations and the promotion of sustainable development, in order to avoid indirect import of significant amounts of carbon embedded in the systems.
More information: Energies 2018, 11(10), 2806; https://doi.org/10.3390/en11102806 (registering DOI)