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The Role of National Energy Policies and Life Cycle Emissions of PV Systems in Reducing Global Net Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

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Article number961
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/02/2021
Issue number4
Number of pages19
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The energy sector and electricity generation in particular, is responsible for a great share of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. World electricity generation is still largely based on the burning of fossil fuels. However, Brazil has already a very low electricity carbon intensity due to the country’s large hydropower capacity. In countries with low grid carbon intensities such as Brazil, the investment in photovoltaic solar systems (PVSS) even if it is cost-effective, might become challenging as any new generation competes essentially against other renewable generation and the carbon offset is not a key driver for investment anymore. This study builds further upon that case to examine if national renewable energy incentives could actually lead to an increase of global net carbon emissions from the installation of PVSS in countries with a low grid carbon intensity. The study presents a life cycle analysis (LCA) of ten photovoltaic systems representative of the different operational conditions in regions across Brazil. It was found that the average energy payback time of the studied PV plants is between 3 and 5 years of operation. This result shows the feasibility and viability of such investments in the Brazilian context. When the LCA was integrated into the analysis though, the results showed that the “local” direct emissions avoidance from two out of ten studied PV plants would not manage to offset their “global” life cycle emissions due to the 2020 projected Brazilian grid emission factor which is already low. It is important to recognize that public policies of unrestricted, unconditional stimulus to photovoltaic systems investment might not help towards reducing global net emissions when the PV systems are installed at countries with a low carbon emission electric matrix. That is also something to consider for other countries as the carbon intensity of their grids will start reducing at levels similar to Brazil’s. It is likely that in the near future, the real net carbon offset achieved by PV systems at the global level will be largely defined by the manufacture procedures and the production’s carbon intensity at the country of origin of the PV panels.