L R AS Published on Saturday 25 September 2021 - n° 375 - Categories:panels

The carbon footprint of European versus Chinese panels

The German research institute Fraunhofer ISE wanted to determine the carbon footprint of solar panels. It compared theCO2 emissions of glass-to-glass panels

(with a glass backsheet) manufactured in Germany, the EU and China. He found that glass panels provide an additional reduction in emissions of between 7.5 and 12.5% compared to PV panels with a backsheet, regardless of location. This is because the aluminium frame is very energy intensive.

It has taken into account theCO2 emissions produced during the manufacture, transport and operation of the panels. The smallest footprints are those of panels that are manufactured in Europe: they have 40% fewer emissions than those from China. Shipping contributes only 3% of the total emissions. Most of the difference comes from the energy needed to manufacture the panels, which accounts for between 50 and 63% of total emissions. This is due to the different energy mix between Europe and China.

Glass solar panels manufactured in the EU require 420 kilograms ofCO2 equivalent per kW of power. Glass sheet solar panels in the EU need 480 kilograms ofCO2 equivalent per kW of power. Manufacturing in Germany requires 520 and 580 kilograms ofCO2 equivalent per kW of power, due to the use of coal to make the electricity

Panels produced in China reach 750 kg ofCO2 per kW. The lowest amounts come from glass-glass panels without aluminium frames. The aluminium frame causes 22-27% moreCO2 emissions than a glass-foil panel

Interestingly, Fraunhofer found that the carbon footprint has decreased by 80% in recent years. "This is due to improvements in silicon yield, manufacturing processes, panel efficiency and theCO2 intensity of power generation."

Hence Fraunhofer ISE's conclusion, "if we want to reduce emissions, we need to install a PV production line in Europe."


PV Magazine 24 September 2021

Editor's note: The CO2 emission rate can indeed play a role in the installation of PV production in Europe. But climate is not the main criterion. It is even the last one to be considered because the main thing is the cost of the panel for the consumer

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