Effect of manufacturing and installation location on environmental impact payback time of solar power

  • Courtney A. Grant
  • Andrea L. HicksEmail author
Original Paper


Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are a promising technology to reduce the environmental impacts of electricity production. Several locations in the USA are favorable for solar PV deployment due to having a high solar potential. This study evaluates the environmental impact payback time (PBTI) for installing multi-crystalline silicon PV systems in multiple US cities, Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Indianapolis, with varying electricity mixes and solar potential, using life cycle inventory data and the Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemicals and other environmental impacts as the impact assessment method. China, USA and European manufacturing scenarios were analyzed to compare the effect of the electricity mix used during manufacturing on PBTI. The results show that the PBTI ranges between < 1 year and 3000 + years across all impact categories. A Chinese manufacturing scenario increased the PBTI in some impact categories (i.e., global warming) compared to the USA and Europe manufacturing, but had no effect for others. The PBTI is within the solar panel life span for the impact categories of global warming, acidification and fossil fuel depletion, but is longer than the lifespan for other impact categories (i.e., eutrophication and ozone depletion). According to the global warming PBTI, policies should incentivize solar panels in the following order: Phoenix, Indianapolis, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle. This work provides guidance to policy makers and manufacturers on the PBTI when the manufacturing location, solar potential and electricity mix are known.

Graphic abstract


Photovoltaics Life cycle assessment Environmental payback time Environmental impact 



This work was supported by the Sustainable LA-UCLA Grand Challenges program. The data presented in this work are those of the authors and have not been formally reviewed by the funders. The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers who helped improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10098_2019_1776_MOESM1_ESM.docx (81 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 81 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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