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SOLAR ENERGY

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Ease of repair & recycling as a crucial factor for sustainable inverters - Part 3

Innovation

9/3/2021
The third installment of our series of blogs on life cycle assessment (LCA) looks at the usage and end of life of our inverters and what influence both these phases have on the overall eco-balance. But first, here is a brief summary:
GEN24 LCA - nachhaltigster Wechselrichter

Parts account for a large share of the eco-balance, but transport only accounts for a very small one

As part of this life cycle assessment for the GEN24 Plus, 16,800 pieces of data were collected and analyzed. To cover as many scenarios as possible, systems in different countries, the type of PV modules, inverters with various power categories, differences in repair options, and recycling and disposal were examined.

In our series of articles, we have considered the following scenario: a Fronius Symo GEN24 5.0 Plus inverter is in operation in Germany for 20 years with conventional PV modules, and is disposed of at the end of its life by means of metal recycling combined with waste incineration.

The parts and therefore the procurement process have a considerable impact (66%) on the climate, aka the CO2 footprint (more details on this can be found in part 1). Transport from suppliers to Fronius (3%) or from Fronius to the customer (0.5%) has an extremely low impact. For a long time we have avoided air freight and use trains, trucks, and sea freight for this purpose, and production at Fronius also has virtually no effect on the climate at 2%.

 

Figure 1: Climate impact by product phase (raw materials & materials, production, usage, end of life)

- 6% Credit with waste recycling / 66% Components /
3% Transport to Fronius2% Production at Fronius /
0,5% Transport to customers35% Electrical losses during usage

shown as kg CO2-eq

The so-called CO2 backpack - losses in the usage phase

Every product has an “embodied carbon footprint” (comparable with a “CO2 backpack” or a “CO2 debt”), which results from all the manufacturing processes, transport, etc., involved. As a consequence, electricity from a PV system also has a CO2 backpack (with a value of approx. 20-80 g CO2-eq/kWh) that is lower than the CO2 backpack of electricity from the grid (in the range of approx. 100-1200 g CO2-eq/kWh, depending on the country).

The GEN24 Plus has an efficiency of 97%, which means that a certain portion of the electricity from the PV modules (3%) is lost as heat. This 3% is a relatively low value, however as the PV system will be used for 20 years, the losses over the entire service life must be added up. Even with the high efficiency of the GEN24 Plus (97%), this effect accounts for a significant portion (35%) of the losses in the overall result for the CO2 footprint.

 

 

Ease of repair & waste management of Fronius products

We have always set high standards regarding the long service life of our products. Dedicated repair centers allow us to replace only those power stage sets or components that are actually faulty, which reduces waste, makes the products last longer, and brings environmental benefits. Speaking of waste, recycling is a major focus here at Fronius: 

100% recycled aluminum is used in the aluminum heat sink shown. Acting in a responsible and conscious manner with regard to the Earth’s resources is one of Fronius’ core commitments and increases the environmental benefits.

 

Figure 2: Aluminum heat sink

 

 

“We are proud to confirm that our inverters save more CO2e emissions than are generated in their manufacture, use and disposal. The evidence-based life cycle assessment for the GEN24 Plus is not only incorporated into further product development, but also into all our business processes. We therefore guarantee sustainable action.”

 

Martin Hackl, General Director Marketing Solar Energy

 

GEN24 Plus – the Eco-Balance

 

However, what does all this mean now? How sustainable are the GEN24 Plus inverters and the associated PV systems?

The results of the LCA are more than satisfying: the environmental benefits are up to 26 times higher than the work involved in manufacturing and operating the inverter, and in recycling or disposing1 of the waste. Up to 16,932 kg CO2e is saved with the GEN24 Plus, which would be equivalent to roughly nine flights from Munich to New York. 

 

If you consider the payback period of the climate impacts (CO2e payback time), depending on the scenario1, this is in the range of 0.8 to 3.7 years

 

1 Depending on device type and country.

 

 

Finally, a brief outlook: While the results of this study are already being incorporated into product development, work is already underway on the next life cycle analysis for the Fronius Tauro.

 

 



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