According to researchers at Cornell University, returning crystalline silicon solar panel manufacturing to the United States by 2035 could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and energy consumption by 13% from 2020 levels.
If solar panel manufacturing returns to the United States by 2035, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be reduced by 30%, the researchers said. Energy consumption could also be reduced by 13% from 2020, when the US relied almost entirely on Malaysia (38%), Vietnam (21%), Thailand (17%), South Korea (9%) and China (6%). and Singapore (3%) for solar module imports.
Researchers conducted a comparative and prospective life cycle assessment (LCA) to determine the energy and environmental impacts of bringing crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar power generation to the United States. LCA includes emissions during upstream module manufacturing, operation, maintenance and end-of-life processing phases.
They performed a quantitative analysis based on global warming potential (GWP) and cumulative energy demand (CED) comparing offshore production scenarios from 2010 to 2020 and re-production scenarios from 2020 to 2050.
“A re-scenario for 2020 is being studied to examine the climate impacts of just bringing production back to the US compared to the case of outsourced manufacturing in 2020,” the researchers explained. “Furthermore, renewable scenarios are forecast every five years from 2025 to 2050 with cleaner energy combinations such as wind, solar, geothermal, etc., increasing from 21 percent of renewable energy in 2020 to 42 percent in 2050.”
The results show that domestic manufacturing of c-Si PV modules in the United States in 2020 could have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 23% and energy use by 4%.
“Differences in power blends between countries lead to differences in the climate change impacts of silicon manufacturing, which directly lead to differences in (scenario) greenhouse gas emissions,” the researchers said.
By 2050, the growing share of solar electricity in the US electricity distribution is expected to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from domestic solar panel manufacturers by 33% compared to international energy production in 2020.
“By 2050, about half of US electricity will come from solar energy,” said Fengqi You, one of the paper’s authors. “Now we only have about 3 percent. The US is on the rise. We’re going to increase solar capacity from 74 GW in 2022 to a projected 1,600 GW by 2050. That means we’re going to need a lot more panels over the next three decades.