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This project/research was financed in the framework of the Lublin University of Technology’s Regional Excellence Initiative, funded by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (contract no. 030/RID/2018/19).
The conversion of kinetic energy from wind and solar radiation into electricity during the operation of wind and photovoltaic power plants causes practically no emissions of chemical compounds that are harmful to the environment. However, the production of their materials and components, as well as their post-use management after the end of their operation, is highly consumptive of energy and materials. For this reason, this article aims to assess the life cycle of a wind and photovoltaic power plant in the context of the sustainable development of energy systems. The objects of the research were two actual technical facilities—a 2 MW wind power plant and a 2 MW photovoltaic power plant, both located in Poland. The analysis of their life cycle was carried out on the basis of the LCA (life-cycle assessment) method, using the ReCiPe 2016 calculation procedure. The impact of the examined renewable energy systems was assessed under 22 impact categories and 3 areas of influence (i.e., human health, ecosystems, and resources), and an analysis was conducted for the results obtained as part of three compartments (i.e., air, water, and soil). The life cycle of the wind power plant was distinguished by a higher total potential negative environmental impact compared to the life cycle of the photovoltaic power plant. The highest levels of potential harmful impacts on the environment in both life cycles were recorded for areas of influence associated with negative impacts on human health. Emissions to the atmosphere accounted for over 90% of all emissions in the lifetimes of both the wind and the photovoltaic power plants. On the basis of the obtained results, guidelines were proposed for pro-ecological changes in the life cycle of materials and elements of the considered technical facilities for renewable energy sources, aimed at better implementation of the main assumptions of contemporary sustainable development (especially in the field of environmental protection).