Proposed changes to EU RoHS rules threaten PV industry

Heinz Kundert from SEMI Europe explains why PV manufacturing equipment should remain excluded from proposed changes to European regulations on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), and calls for industry and government collaboration to fully understand those changes’ intended and unintended consequences.

March 2, 2010 – Current proposed changes to European regulations on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) threaten the PV industry. RoHS regulations restrict the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, including equipment used to manufacture solar cells and modules. PV manufacturing equipment is now excluded from the scope of RoHS under the large-scale stationary industrial tool (LSIT) exclusion.

However, in October 2009, an EU Parliament committee published a new ROHS recast draft proposal — one that would eliminate the LSIT exclusion that covered PV manufacturing equipment. The proposed changes would also affect equipment used to manufacture ICs, LEDs, and MEMS.

Losing the LSIT exclusion for PV manufacturing equipment is a serious issue that threatens the entire supply chain. The SEMI PV Group believes that semiconductor and PV manufacturing equipment should be excluded from RoHS.


Not a significant environmental risk

Originally, RoHS was intended to regulate hazardous substances in products with short life spans that are manufactured in high volumes — products most likely to end up in landfill sites or get exported as waste. PV manufacturing equipment is significantly different from such products. Extending RoHS to PV manufacturing equipment offers little or no health or environmental benefit. Because of the limited quantities of equipment sold, minimal amounts of restricted substances would be eliminated from landfills. In addition, PV manufacturing equipment is designed for a service life of 10 to 20+ years. Finally, used PV equipment is worth millions of Euros, so after a proper decommissioning process that addresses life cycle health and environmental impacts, it is resold in a robust secondary equipment market.

– Eliminating the exclusion will not significantly improve health, safety, or the environment.


Compliance costs? Disproportionately high

Compliance implementation costs would be disproportionately high for the PV industry compared to other products (cell phones, etc.) currently under the scope of RoHS. The LSITs used to manufacture ICs and PV cells and panels are huge and complex — the tools are comprised of thousands of high-technology components from a complex, multi-tiered, global supply chain representing thousands of OEM suppliers. Demonstrating RoHS conformance would require years of supplier micro-managing for new equipment and would be almost impossible for used equipment. Complying with the current RoHS substance restrictions would require re-educating the entire supply chain, restructuring business contracts, material substitutions, and product redesign. This could take decades to achieve.

– Eliminating the exclusion would be contrary to RoHS’ stated goal: Protect the environment at a reasonable business expense — especially considering this equipments’ small risk profile.


Reduce competitiveness of the European PV industries

Losing the LSIT exclusion in the EU RoHS legislation would result in serious unintended negative consequences. Compliance implementation time and costs would hinder future growth in Europe and other countries, also affecting cell and module manufacturers. Reduced availability of the equipment would accelerate the slowdown of manufacturing in Europe. RoHS restrictions would end the importation and sales of used equipment in Europe, putting the semiconductor and PV industries at a distinct competitive disadvantage. This would result in job losses in an industry that, with its supply chain, employs more than 200,000 people.

– Eliminating the exclusion would result in job losses and a competitive disadvantage for Europe. In addition, as much environmental legislation is driven by Europe, this precedent could extend to other regions of the world.


Next steps

The PV Group wants to support the development of effective environmental policies, including government regulations that encourage sustainable business performance without excessive costs or redundant or conflicting requirements. Towards this end, we urge the EU to complete a comprehensive impact assessment to quantify the environmental impacts and administrative costs of changes to the LSIT exclusion, following the same approach used to assess the effects of expanding RoHS to cover medical and monitoring equipment.

Collaborative industry efforts are needed so the EU fully understands the intended and unintended impacts of the proposed LSIT changes. SEMI has established a RoHS Working Group to advocate for PV and semiconductor manufacturing equipment exclusions. The PV Group urges members and industry partners, especially in Europe, to assist in these advocacy efforts. To join, please contact me, Heinz Kundert, at hkundert@semi.org.




Heinz Kundert is the president of SEMI PV Group Europe, which serves the photovoltaic supply chain. The PV Group mission is to advance industry growth, support continuous efficiency improvements and promote sustainable business practices — through international standards development, events, public policy advocacy, EHS support, market intelligence, and other services. E-mail:
hkundert@semi.org, www.pvgroup.org.

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