PV in the Circular Economy, A Dynamic Framework Analyzing Technology Evolution and Reliability Impacts

Silvana Ovaitt, Heather Mirletz, Sridhar Seetharaman, Teresa Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus Citations


Rapid, terawatt-scale deployment of photovoltaic (PV) modules is required to decarbonize the energy sector. Despite efficiency and manufacturing improvements, material demand will increase, eventually resulting in waste as deployed modules reach end of life. Circular choices for decommissioned modules could reduce waste and offset virgin materials. We present PV ICE, an open-source python framework using modern reliability data, which tracks module material flows throughout PV life cycles. We provide dynamic baselines capturing PV module and material evolution. PV ICE includes multimodal end of life, circular pathways, and manufacturing losses. We present a validation of the framework and a sensitivity analysis. Results show that manufacturing efficiencies strongly affect material demand, representing >20% of the 9 million tons of waste cumulatively expected by 2050. Reliability and circular pathways represent the best opportunities to reduce waste by 56% while maintaining installed capacity. Shorter-lived modules generate 81% more waste and reduce 2050 capacity by 6%.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 103488
Number of pages28
Issue number1
StatePublished - 21 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5K00-80440


  • circular economy
  • dynamic mass flow
  • end of life
  • lifecycle
  • open-source Python tool
  • photovoltaics
  • reliability
  • technology evolution


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