Small-scale residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are becoming increasingly common. In some cases, governments or individual homeowners promote PV technology because of concerns about climate change and a desire to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). While solar PV directly emits no GHGs during use, the panels are associated with a significant amount of embedded GHG emissions, resulting from the manufacturing of the panels, for instance. A review of relevant literature reveals that the life cycle GHG emissions of solar PV panels are significantly influenced by contextual factors, such as the location of the panels during use. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the many ways context could affect the GHG emissions associated with solar PV systems and to demonstrate — via calculations from a simple analytical model — the potential magnitude of the GHG emissions differences associated with using PV panels in different contexts.

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