Renewable energy technologies have emerged to address the negative environmental impacts of increasing use of fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaics (PV) are an attractive renewable energy technology because they avoid significant carbon emissions during use common to non-renewables, have a long useful lifetime estimated at 20 - 30 years, and they take advantage of a stable and plentiful energy resource - the sun. However, it has been suggested that material availability is a potential constraint for broad deployment of PV. For example, solar PV's core technology depends on several primary materials i.e. indum and tellurium which were recently determined to be of high importance for the development of a clean energy economy and at near-critical supply risk. In order to evaluate the risks to supply, the environment, and the economy a broader definition of criticality that goes beyond physical scarcity to include sustainability metrics e.g. embodied energy, political instability, economic value was developed. Using this methodology several policies are suggested that depart from traditional command- and-control approaches. One criticality mitigating strategy, material recycling, is at odds with current PV research where there is a strong emphasis on efficiency gains. Recycling is a strategy with potential that has yet to be fully recognized due to the current lack of collection infrastructure and uncertain set of processing technologies. This work explores under what conditions the energy payback time (EPBT) of PV modules containing recycled materials demonstrate equivalent energy savings to improvements in efficiency. These EPBT improvements from recycling motivate further methodological work on the economically optimal PV recycling infrastructure. This methodology includes a case study that demonstrates model sensitivity in addition to revealing important tradeoffs for recycling policy and economics.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Photovoltaic power systems--Materials; Solar energy; Electronic waste--Recycling; Product life cycle--Management
Department, Program, or Center
Paul H. Stiebitz
Goe, Michele, "Sustainability Informed Management of End-of-Life Photovoltaics: Assessing Environmental and Economic Tradeoffs of Collection and Recycling" (2014). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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