The concerns about environmental impacts of photovoltaic (PV) power systems are growing with the increasing expectation of PV technologies. In this paper, three kinds of silicon-based PV modules, namely single-crystalline silicon (c-Si), polycrystalline silicon (poly-Si) and amorphous silicon (a-Si) PV modules, are evaluated from the viewpoint of their life-cycle. For the c-Si PV module it was assumed that off-grade silicon from semiconductor industries is used with existing production technologies. On the other hand, new technologies and the growth of production scale were presumed with respect to the poly-Si and a-Si PV modules.
Our results show that c-Si PV modules have a shorter energy pay-back time than their expected lifetime and lower CO2 emission than the average CO2 emission calculated from the recent energy mix in Japan, even with present technologies. Furthermore the poly-Si and the a-Si PV modules with the near-future technologies give much reduction in energy pay-back times and CO2 emissions compared with the present c-Si PV modules. The reduction of glass use and the frameless design of the PV module may be effective means to decrease them more, although the lifetime of the PV module must be taken into account. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.