Energy and Carbon Payback Times for Modern U.S. Utility Photovoltaic Systems

Research output: NRELFact Sheet


Manufacturing and operating a PV system consumes non-renewable energy and produces carbon emissions, as does end-of-life handling when PV systems are eventually decommissioned. To fully account for PV's contribution toward decarbonization, these life cycle impacts must be quantified. A 2023 NREL LCA of utility PV systems in the United States Study show energy payback times between 0.5 and 1.2 years and carbon payback times between 0.8 to 20 years, depending on the system install location. Payback times are affected by the amount of local solar radiation, and carbon payback time is significantly affected by the carbon-intensity of the local grid it offsets, as well as the future projected grid mix for the location it is installed. In an average U.S. location, carbon payback times are less than 2 years.
Original languageAmerican English
PublisherNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Number of pages2
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/FS-7A40-88653


  • carbon payback time
  • energy payback time
  • greenhouse gas payback time
  • life cycle assessment
  • solar photovoltaics


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