PV ICE: Photovoltaics in the Circular Economy Tool

The Photovoltaic in the Circular Economy (PV ICE) tool models the flow of mass and energy in the PV industry, helping to plan a more circular economy for solar energy.

PV ICE is an open-source tool designed to provide stakeholders and decision makers with a data-backed, mass-flow-based evaluation of potential circular economy pathways for PV materials.

Download PV ICE Tool

The software can be accessed from a GitHub repo that includes tutorials and full documentation.

An image compares the material composition of two types of PV modules, demonstrating how the bill of materials for modules can evolve over time with technology changes.
PV ICE captures historic and projected technology changes in PV, such as the evolution of module designs shown here. The tool models the changes in module composition over time to evaluate how this could impact virgin material needs, end of life waste, and installed capacity.

PV ICE Tool Capabilities

Using historic and projected average bills of materials for PV modules, PV ICE can estimate material demands—including accounting for changes in future PV designs, performance, and market shares. It can also estimate end-of-life material volumes, track effective installed capacity, and estimate the impact of a variety of circular pathways for PV materials.

Key features of PV ICE include:

  • A transparent, reproducible, and research-backed tool as an open-source package in Python
  • Dynamic baseline inputs that capture the evolution of PV technology
  • Variable schedules for future deployments of PV that consider different paths to decarbonization
  • Mass-flow tracking of circular loops, with planned expansions to include energy, impacts, and economics dimensions, including pathways for reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling
  • Application of NREL's experience in PV reliability to evaluate the impact of PV system quality on PV retirements
  • Incorporation of common industry practices and behaviors (e.g., economic project lifetime, merchant tails, and repowering)
  • A flexible framework that can evaluate spatial resolution, scenario comparisons, and even other renewable energy sources.
A figure shows six interlocking hexagons representing the key dimensions that PV ICE will ultimately model: mass, equity, carbon, economics, energy, and the capacity for decarbonization. All of these add up to measure the impacts of photovoltaics for decarbonization. Mass measures material demands and lifecycle wastes. Equity measures, jobs, health, and sustainable supply chains. Carbon measures carbon intensity of circular pathways and ways to minimize carbon impacts. Economics measures circular business models and circular supply chains. Energy measures energy for manufacturing, energy for circular pathways, and energy balance. Capacity for decarbonization measures ways to reach 1 terawatt of solar in 2035 and 1.75 terawatts in 2050.
The PV ICE development team aims to eventually include six key dimensions in the open-source software. The goal is to build a tool to allow users to comprehensively consider all the major impacts of different end-of-life options for PV modules. Together, these dimensions will help to track the impacts of photovoltaics for decarbonization.


PV in the Circular Economy, a Dynamic Framework Analyzing Technology Evolution and Reliability ImpactsiScience (2022)

Circular Economy Priorities for Photovoltaics in the Energy Transition, PLOS One (2022)

Environmental and Circular Economy Implications of Solar Energy in a Decarbonized U.S. Grid, NREL Technical Report (2021)

PV Evolution in the Light of Circular Economy, 2021 IEEE 48th Photovoltaic Specialists Conference (2021)

Evaluating Material Circular Efficacy of Waste-Management Scenarios Using PV ICE Tool, NREL Poster Session (2021)

Solar Futures Study, DOE Technical Report (2021)

Baselines and Results

Explore PV ICE baselines and results on the Open Energy Information platform.

Cite the Tool

If you publish data generated from the PV ICE tool, please cite it accordingly:

Ovaitt, Silvana, Heather Mirletz, and Acadia Hegedus. 2021. “NREL/PV ICE: Release version 2.1 (v0.2.1).” Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5659151.