Department of Business Development and Technology

Assessing the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from solar PV and wind energy: A critical meta-survey

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  • Daniel Nugent, Vermont Law School, Institute for Energy & the Environment, United States
  • Benjamin Sovacool
This paper critically screens 153 lifecycle studies covering a broad range of wind and solar photovoltaic
(PV) electricity generation technologies to identify 41 of the most relevant, recent, rigorous, original, and
complete assessments so that the dynamics of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions profiles can be
determined. When viewed in a holistic manner, including initial materials extraction, manufacturing, use
and disposal/decommissioning, these 41 studies show that both wind and solar systems are directly tied
to and responsible for GHG emissions. They are thus not actually emissions free technologies. Moreover,
by spotlighting the lifecycle stages and physical characteristics of these technologies that are most
responsible for emissions, improvements can be made to lower their carbon footprint. As such, through
in-depth examination of the results of these studies and the variations therein, this article uncovers best
practices in wind and solar design and deployment that can better inform climate change mitigation
efforts in the electricity sector
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnergy Policy
Pages (from-to)229-244
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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