Environmental performance of emerging photovoltaic technologies: Assessment of the status quo and future prospects based on a meta-analysis of life-cycle assessment studies
Emerging photovoltaic technologies are expected to have lower environmental impacts during their life cycle due to their extremely thin-film technology and resulting material savings. The environmental impacts of four emerging photovoltaics were investigated based on a meta-analysis of life-cycle assessment (LCA) studies, comprising a systematic review and harmonization approach of five key indicators to describe the environmental status quo and future prospects. The status quo was analyzed based on a material-related functional unit of 1 watt-peak of the photovoltaic cell. For future prospects, the functional unit of 1 kWh of generated electricity was used, including assumptions on the use phase, notably on the lifetime. The results of the status quo show that organic photovoltaic technology is the most mature emerging photovoltaic technology with a competitive environmental performance, while perovskites have a low performance, attributed to the early stage of development and inefficient manufacturing on the laboratory scale. The results of future prospects identified improvements of efficiency, lifetime, and manufacturing with regard to environmental performance based on sensitivity and scenario analyses. The developed harmonization approach supports the use of LCA in the early stages of technology development in a structured way to reduce uncertainty and extract significant information during development.