UC Berkeley and CPV Consortium Release Study on Environmental Impact of Concentrated Solar Power Photovoltaic Technology

A new report finds that concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) solar systems have distinct environmental advantages as compared with other energy technologies, in most cases using less land, water and materials than other solar technologies. The report was released by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley, and commissioned by the CPV Consortium, a global non-profit organization that supports the development of the CPV industry. The report looks at the technology from inception to retirement, taking all aspects of the life cycle into consideration.

The study provides information on the life cycle assessment (LCA) elements such as energy payback, embedded greenhouse gases, and cradle-to-cradle footprint, whereby CPV systems lead the industry based on data available at the time of the study. Taking into account the increasing efficiencies of CPV, it is projected that CPV continues to increase in its competitive edge in these areas today as well as in the future. Water and land use are examined as well. Compared to solar thermal generators, CPV water usage is minimal making the technology optimal in dry, desert areas with a high solar resource. The land footprint and impact is also found to be lower; as efficiencies of CPV systems increase this will become even a bigger benefit.

“We are always looking for technologies to allow us to dramatically increase the amount of energy output per built area in order to minimize the footprint on the ground,” said Dr. Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley. “Concentrating solar minimizes overall land area use to a degree that almost nothing can beat.”

“Solar energy is a critical driver of the energy transformation taking place around the world, but as these technologies are deployed it’s imperative that we consider the environmental impact of these new systems,” said Nancy Hartsoch, chairman of the CPV Consortium board. “This study demonstrates that CPV technology is not only economically viable, but environmentally advantaged through its entire life cycle. With CPV, we don’t need to compromise between economics and the environment.”

The report uses Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology that includes energy, emissions, water use and land use. Additionally, the report contains details about the CPV deployment using UC Berkeley’s SWITCH model (an electric power system capacity expansion model of Western North America that plans long]term grid investments while minimizing the cost of electricity in a given policy context), and emissions benefits of CPV projects in power systems. The SWITCH model demonstrates the economic viability of CPV as a power generation technology for that region. The full report can be found on the Consortium’s website at www.cpvconsortium.org.

The CPV Consortium is a global industry organization that supports the development and long-term success of the Concentrator Photovoltaics (CPV) industry with the goal of providing a low cost, reliable source of renewable energy. Its members include designers and manufacturers of CPV panels, CPV cell suppliers, and tracker suppliers. The membership also includes a large base of companies working on the deployment, test, materials, and other parts of the industry infrastructure.

The Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) is a unique new research, development, project implementation, and community outreach facility based at the University of California, Berkeley in the Energy and Resources Group and the Department of Nuclear Engineering. RAEL focuses on designing, testing, and disseminating renewable and appropriate energy systems. The laboratory’s mission is to help these technologies realize their full potential to contribute to environmentally sustainable development in both industrialized and developing nations while also addressing the cultural context and range of potential social impacts of any new technology or resource management system.