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An Exploration of Divergence in EPBT and EROI for Solar Photovoltaics

Graham Palmer () and Joshua Floyd
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Graham Palmer: The University of Melbourne
Joshua Floyd: The Rescope Project

Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, 2017, vol. 2, issue 4, 1-20

Abstract: Abstract Solar photovoltaics (PV) is widely regarded as one of the most promising renewable energy technologies. Net energy analysis (NEA) is a tool to evaluate the energetic performance of all energy supply technologies, including solar PV. Results across studies can appear to diverge sharply, which leads to contestation of NEA’s relevance to energy transition feasibility assessment and contributes to ongoing uncertainty in relation to the critical issue of the sustainability of PV. This study explores how PV NEA approaches differ, including in relation to goal definitions, methodologies and boundaries of analysis. It focuses on two principal NEA metrics, energy return on investment (EROI) and energy payback time (EPBT). Here we show that most of the apparent divergence between studies is accounted for by six factors—life-cycle assessment methodology, age of the primary data, PV cell technology, the treatment of intermittency, equivalence of investment and output energy forms, and assumptions about real-world performance. The apparent divergence in findings between studies can often be traced back to different goal definitions. This study reviews the differing approaches and makes the case that NEA is important for assessing the role of PV in future energy systems, but that findings in the form of EROI or EPBT must be considered with specific reference to the details of the particular study context, and the research questions that it seeks to address. NEA findings in a particular context cannot definitively support general statements about EROI or EPBT of PV electricity in all contexts.

Keywords: Solar PV; EROI; EPBT; Net energy (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1007/s41247-017-0033-0

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