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Exploiting solar energy with minimum environmental impact

23/09/2019 Focus on

When deciding to turn to green energy, it is essential to compare the environmental impact of the technologies currently on the market. The whole life cycle of the product must be taken into consideration. First of all, the carbon footprint of the product must be measured at the time of design and during actual use. The energy balance of the technology must also then be calculated. To this end, the energy consumption during production and at the end of the life cycle must be assessed and compared with the energy produced throughout its utilization. Finally, a full evaluation of the product must also take into account the materials of which it is composed, in addition to its recyclability.

Limit your ecological impact by choosing OPV

Organic photovoltaic technology offers particularly strong benefits in environmental terms. To begin with, it uses very low volumes of raw materials. Its formulation based on organic polymers is coated in very fine layers on thin films. Furthermore, low amounts of energy are used in its production compared to silicon-based technologies, which require transformation at very high temperatures. This particularly applies to ASCA® films, which are made from an especially low-carbon process free of rare earths exploiting the unique know-how of the ARMOR group. Finally, organic films are free of chlorinated and fluorinated derivatives, thereby reducing the risk of the films being toxic or carcinogenic.

Did you know?

A solar panel is made of glass, aluminum, plastic, silicon and electrical conductors. Sorting and recycling industries have fortunately been created in recent years to limit the pollution caused by these panels when they reach the end of their useful life. The end-of-life processing of ASCA® photovoltaic films has been anticipated since the design phase. Accordingly, the films produced by ARMOR are guaranteed 100% recoverable. The solid recovered fuel (SRF) process selected by the group is more virtuous than all other incineration processes. It consists of replacing fossil fuel energy with the calorific power of the films released during their combustion. But that’s not all: the technique also includes recycling of the ashes.

Energy payback time of OPV

The energy payback time is the ratio between a product’s total energy consumed during its production, transportation, installation and recycling, and the total amount of energy produced annually. Independent studies conducted into the energy payback time (EPBT) of certain applications incorporating ASCA® organic films show that, in given contexts, the organic photovoltaic film has an energy payback time around 10 times shorter than other silicon-based technologies. This finding is not surprising given the raw material and energy savings made from the very first stages of production. All in all, OPV is clearly an energy offering maximum environmental friendliness throughout its life cycle.

The expert’s view – Annabelle Guillet, CSR Manager at ARMOR

In your opinion, what are the major energy challenges currently being faced by industry?

The social challenges facing industry and service sector companies notably include reducing the carbon footprint of their activities, reducing their energy consumption and developing energy self-sufficiency. Stakeholders and companies in the construction and housing sector are targeted with developing renewable energies and reducing the carbon footprint of housing, which accounted for 22% of greenhouse gas emissions in France during 2018. To this end, materials that reduce the carbon footprint of new homes and buildings must be favored. Other challenges relating to the development of renewable energies lay before us, such as the issue of sharing energy via smart grids. We must also be able to adapt our uses and modes of consumption of such new forms of energy, which may only be available intermittently.

In your opinion, what roles will solar energy play in achieving these objectives?

Solar energy is enjoying exponential growth and all stakeholders have understood the importance of exploiting this energy of the future in order to preserve the planet. An increasing number of applications are also the subject of experimental photovoltaic projects and large-scale investment in order to improve the energy efficiency of our cities and buildings in all sectors of the economy. Furthermore, RE2020 environmental legislation will soon require operators in France to carry out their construction projects on the basis of passive or positive energy (E+) and to guarantee that their projects have a reduced carbon footprint (C-). This approach is also shared outside France. Solar energy is increasingly proving itself to be an ideal source of energy savings and production. I believe that this environmental awakening presents an excellent opportunity to look at energy differently, not simply as an expense, but increasingly as a driver of innovation, generating savings in both financial and energy terms.

What in your opinion are the main challenges if we are to see OPV become widespread in the solar energy landscape, currently dominated by solar panels?

All the research laboratories around the world have been developing new high-performance and ingenious photovoltaic technologies for many years now. Such innovation will improve access to this form of green energy and will accelerate its deployment in numerous applications using a wide variety of materials. The new technology also offers major differentiation opportunities in both technical and environmental terms. The outlook for OPV in the coming years is very positive. The prospects of higher energy yield and the conviction among industrialists of the potential of the technology represent clear indicators of confidence for ARMOR, which designs and produces the ASCA® photovoltaic films. The ARMOR group has been investing in this disruptive technology since 2010, as its environmental benefits are fully consistent with the policy of social innovation at the heart of our strategy.

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