Photovoltaic capacity additions: the optimal rate of deployment with sensitivity to time-based GHG emissions
Current policies subsidizing or accelerating deployment of photovoltaics (PV) are typically motivated by claims of environmental benefit, such as the reduction of CO2 emissions generated by the fossil-fuel fired power plants that PV is intended to displace. Existing practice is to assess these environmental benefits on a net life-cycle basis, where CO2 benefits occurring during use of the PV panels is found to exceed emissions generated during the PV manufacturing phase including materials extraction and manufacture of the PV panels prior to installation. However, this approach neglects to recognize that the environmental costs of CO2 release during manufacture are incurred early, while environmental benefits accrue later. Thus, where specific policy targets suggest meeting CO2 reduction targets established by a certain date, rapid PV deployment may have counter-intuitive, albeit temporary, undesired consequences. Thus, on a cumulative radiative forcing (CRF) basis, the environmental improvements attributable to PV might be realized much later than is currently understood. This phenomenon is particularly acute when PV manufacture occurs in areas using CO2 intensive energy sources (e.g., coal), but deployment occurs in areas with less CO2 intensive electricity sources (e.g., hydro). This thesis builds a dynamic Cumulative Radiative Forcing (CRF) model to examine the inter-temporal warming impacts of PV deployments in three locations: California, Wyoming and Arizona. The model includes the following factors that impact CRF: PV deployment rate, choice of PV technology, pace of PV technology improvements, and CO2 intensity in the electricity mix at manufacturing and deployment locations. Wyoming and California show the highest and lowest CRF benefits as they have the most and least CO2 intensive grids, respectively. CRF payback times are longer than CO2 payback times in all cases. Thin film, CdTe PV technologies have the lowest manufacturing CO2 emissions and therefore the shortest CRF payback times. This model can inform policies intended to fulfill time-sensitive CO2 mitigation goals while minimizing short term radiative forcing.