Here, we review 33 life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of thin-film photovoltaic (PV) technologies that have had a holistic coverage in their assessments and/or have included ecodesign aspects. Only five of them were found to have a comprehensive life cycle and impact coverage, and their analyses highlighted the importance of (i) including the entire life cycle of the PV system, in particular the often-omitted disposal stage, and (ii) assessing all relevant impact categories and not just climate change or energy requirements to minimise the risk of burden-shifting. Out of the 28 studies embracing ecodesign considerations in parts of the PV life cycle, the analysis of the eleven of them addressing primary energy demand during module production suggests that electricity consumption during the metal deposition processes is a top contributor and should be prioritised by PV technology developers. A similar analysis of the ten studies having included the balance of system components (BOS) in the assessments showed that these contribute significantly to most environmental impact categories. Beyond recommending that stakeholders in the PV field rely on LCA to support decision-making and to guide scientific research and technological development, we strongly advocate LCA practitioners to include the entire PV system, including the BOS, to identify ecodesign opportunities without risking potential burden-shifting across the different parts of the system and across impact categories.
- Life cycle assessment
- Thin film