SDG logo

PV replacement calculator

Home Tool Background Contact

This work (other than the webtool) has been published in this RIVM brochure

Degrees of sustainability

Solar power is a sustainable energy source, but there are also distinctions in how sustainable different types of panels are. This is often expressed in the "sustainability performance" of a product. The sustainability performance is usually calculated by comparing the total carbon footprint of the production and disposal of the PV system against the kWh produced within a certain time frame. In this section we show we show that the usage scenario can also be a determining factor for the sustainability performance.

In the Netherlands, we have to use the space we have efficiently, which is why the yield achieved from solar panels is of great importance. Solar panels become less efficient as they age, and meanwhile, new more efficient panels are also being developed. Therefore, early replacement of solar panels (earlier than the current average expected 30-year lifespan) may be interesting. An earlier study showed that replacement can be financially attractive, but that early replacement at the expense of the CO2 footprint per kWh of energy generated.

Using a number of scenarios, we illustrate that lifetime is one of the most important sustainability aspects when looking at carbon footprint per kWh. A number of variables affect the final impact, namely: the operational lifetime, the irradiation, the energy efficiency of the system, and the environmental pressure from production and discarding.

When we want to calculate whether early replacement pays off, we also need to calculate the future improvement of efficiency. In addition, production and disposal will become less environmentally damaging: on the one hand by more efficient production techniques or through higher circularity (e.g. modular parts, use or extraction of secondary raw materials). To measure when early replacement pays off, you can use this tool you can calculate scenarios with a model developed by the IEA. In the background information you will find a more detailed explanation.

Start the tool
Visualisation of method