Australia possesses the highest average solar radiation of any continent in the world, but solar energy in total contributed less than 1% to Australia’s primary energy consumption. This study intends to assess whether solar photovoltaic (PV) is really a sustainable option for Australia’s energy transition on the project level. An UNEP life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) was conducted on a 1.2MW flat-roof mounted PV solar array UQ Solar. It was installed in the St. Lucia campus of the University of Queensland in Brisbane in 2011. According to the results of LCSA, UQ Solar performed well in environmental aspects, except for emissions of several criteria air pollutants (As, Cd, Cr, Pb and C6H6). Along the life cycle of UQ Solar, PV modules production contributed most to environmental impacts. UQ Solar was economically feasible with the grant provided by Queensland Government, and the Levelized Cost Of Electricity (LCOE) was more or less the same as the LCOE of offset electricity. It was the PV modules production, again, that took up the largest share of the cost. Its performance in social aspects was not as good as expected, although no serious adverse impacts were detected. Large-scale PV installations can be sustainable in Australia, if several environmental, economic, and social problems are addressed. PV manufacturers should be more responsible to reduce, and eventually eliminate toxic/hazardous materials used in PV modules production; End-of-life treatment should be taken good care of to make sure solar modules / components / materials can be reused / recycled / recovered; Government should truly support the deployment of large-scale PV installation by providing more incentives / funds / infrastructures; Substantial subsidies for fossil fuel power stations should phase out; More awareness and training activities should be organised to promote the social acceptance of solar PV installations.
University of Graz
Prof. Alfred Posch; Dr. Anthony Halog