Short-Lived Modules Need to be Efficient, Lightweight, and Circular for the Energy Transition

Research output: NRELPoster


Deployment projections for decarbonizing the grid predict 1.75 TW of PV is needed in the United States by 2050. This entails a cumulative demand of 97 million metric tonnes of virgin materials for c-Si modules. These material needs are extraction and energy intensive, making them a key target for improving PV sustainability. Emerging PV technologies, such as perovskites, are targeting 15-year modules, high efficiencies, and circular designs. Previous analysis found that by just modifying the life expectancy to 15 years (keeping target c-Si efficiencies and BOM), an additional 1.4 TW of replacement modules are required to maintain capacity, increasing virgin material demand by 1.75x unless >95% closed-loop recycling is maintained. This study examines the effect of achieving higher efficiencies with thin-film designs and a 15-year expectancy. Higher efficiencies and thin film designs can decrease deployment and material demands, making the level of circularity more attainable. If BOM mass is reduced by 50%, closed-loop recycling rates need to be >80% to reduce virgin material demands compared to a 35-yr c-Si module. If module efficiencies are 30%, closed-loop recycling rates can be reduced to 65%. This efficiency increase also reflects that 1500 million fewer modules can be deployed, however, this is still 2000 million more modules than a 35-year module needs to deploy to achieve energy transition targets, and no PV technology is closed-loop recycled for all component materials.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the Photovoltaic Reliability Workshop, 21-25 February 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-5K00-82288


  • circular economy
  • lifecycle wastes
  • lifetime
  • material demands
  • module efficiency
  • photovoltaics
  • recycling
  • thin film


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