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Comparing the environmental and economic impacts of on- or off-grid solar photovoltaics with traditional energy sources for rural irrigation systems

Mérida García, A., Gallagher, J., McNabola, A., Camacho Poyato, E., Montesinos Barrios, P., Rodríguez Díaz, J.A.
Renewable energy 2019 v.140 pp. 895-904
economic impact, electricity, energy, environmental impact, exports, generators (equipment), irrigation systems, longevity, manufacturing, photovoltaic cells, solar energy, Spain
This study quantifies the environmental and economic life cycle impacts of solar photovoltaics (PV), grid electricity and a diesel generator as power sources for pumping water in an irrigation network in Spain. It compares these energy sources in the context of on-grid or off-grid scenarios, where the PV energy is consumed solely by the irrigation pumping system (off-grid) or distributed between the pump and grid (on-grid). Overall, the results show the PV as the option with lower burdens for most environmental impact categories in both, an off- and on-grid scenario, over a 30-year lifespan. However, solar PV demonstrated a higher abiotic resource depletion burden, due to the high material demands from its manufacturing. The on-grid PV option allowed for the export of excess energy, having environmental impacts six times lower than the off-grid option. From an economic perspective, solar PV option was the cheapest energy source, despite higher initial investment. Finally, extending the grid connection to the isolated location ensures grid exports from the solar PV installation, reducing the associated impacts by between 54 and 77% for the different burden categories. Based on a 30-year lifespan, solar PV is the most economically- and environmentally-viable energy source for pumping in irrigation networks.