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What is the typical embodied energy of a solar photovoltaic panel, in terms of nominal power output or panel area? The ideal answer would be in kWh/WP, but kWh/m2 would also be acceptable.

I understand there is probably a range of answers to this question, so here are some simplifying assumptions:

  • If the manufacturing process is more efficient for larger panels, then the answer for large panels (best case scenario) is preferred.
  • If the manufacturing process has become more efficient over time, then an answer for the most modern and efficient process (best case scenario) is prefered.
  • If different manufacture technologies (monocrystal, polycrystal, thin film) have different amounts of embodied energy, then the lowest answer (best case scenario) is preferred.
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According to the Wikipedia article on EROI, 585 kWh/m2 is a median value for the embodied energy of a photovoltaic panel, rated based on surface area.

The "energy invested" critically depends on technology, methodology, and system boundary assumptions, resulting in a range from a maximum of 2000 kWh/m² of module area down to a minimum of 300 kWh/m² with a median value of 585 kWh/m² according to a meta-study. [9]

Assuming a panel efficiency of 20% (typical of commercially available panels) and solar irradiance of 1000 W/m2, 1.0 m2 of panel would have a peak power output (WP) of about 200 W/m2. Or stated differently, it would take about 50 cm2 of panel to deliver 1 Watt, and manufacturing that panel would use about 2.9 kWh of energy.

So as a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation, the embodied energy of a solar panel, normalized for peak power output, is about 2.9 kWh/WP.

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