Session code: 3AO.1.2   

Environmental Benefits of Solar Photovoltaics in South Africa

P. Sinha, M. de Wild-Scholten, L. Luckhurst


With extensive coal supplies, South Africa currently meets over 90% of its electricity needs through coal.  However, the South African government has committed to diversifying its energy portfolio, including reducing dependence on coal by 2030 to 65% (from the current 93%) which will result in a new non-coal capacity of ~28 GW.  In addition, the 2010 Integrated Resource Plan lists the intention of installing 300 MW per year of solar power from 2012 onwards.  International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) methods have been used to compare life cycle environmental impacts of grid electricity in South Africa with electricity from photovoltaics (PV).  While a variety of life cycle environmental impact assessment methods are currently available, there has been a recent effort within the Joint Research Center of the European Commission to develop consensus impact methods through the ILCD.  In the case of ground-mounted CdTe PV systems and roof-mounted crystalline Si PV systems, displacement of South African grid electricity results in over two-thirds reductions in a variety of impact categories for ecosystems, human health, and natural resources.  The only impact category where PV does not provide a comparative benefit is with respect to the ILCD mineral, fossil, and renewable resource depletion category.  This is primarily due to the use of valuable metals in PV modules and balance of systems.  The impacts of resource depletion by PV may be mitigated by high-value end-of-life product recycling that recovers both bulk materials (e.g., glass, aluminum, copper) and semiconductor and rare materials in PV modules, and recovers recyclable materials (e.g., steel, aluminum, and copper) in balance of systems.   In the case of ground-mount PV systems, potential land use impacts may be reduced by responsible land use practices that include careful site selection, minimal soil grading techniques, and project decommissioning that includes end-of-life recycling.


PV market; PV system; thin film; crystalline silicon; ILCD; LCA

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ISBN 978-88-89407-103

© 2014 WIP Renewable Energies