Solar scorecard tracks PV’s real “green” nature

Who are the greenest solar module companies, both environmentally and socially? An updated “scorecard” released this week tracking more than a dozen top global suppliers finds that German suppliers come out on top.

March 25, 2010 – Who are the greenest solar module companies, both environmentally and socially? An updated “scorecard” released this week tracking more than a dozen top global suppliers finds that German suppliers come out on top.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s (SVTC) 2010 Solar Company Scorecard builds on recommendations from a January 2009 campaign that detailed hazards related to manufacturing and disposal of solar PV panels, and called for actions to move toward creating a sustainable sector, such as take-back policies for solar panels and reduction and eventual elimination of toxic materials.

“Solar power is key to helping solve the world’s climate crisis,” said Sheila Davis, executive director of SVTC, in a statement. “But the industry still faces serious issues that need to be addressed before it can be considered truly ‘clean and green’ and socially just.” Seb Beloe from Henderson Global Investors, which sponsored the survey, noted that this is the first assessment and comparison of solar firms’ social and environmental performance. “The solar industry needs high corporate responsibility standards if it is to fulfill its potential as a truly sustainable industry,” he said.

For this new study, SVTC awarded points (1-100) in four areas:

  • Extended producer responsibility and takeback (i.e., being responsible for the impacts of their products on the environment and communities, including free customer takeback/recycling and no exporting end-of-life products to developing countries);
  • Supply-chain monitoring and green jobs (protecting workers from exposure to toxic chemicals and ensuring a living wage — including suppliers and sub-suppliers);
  • Chemical use and lifecycle analysis (avoiding certain hazardous substances, phasing out greenhouse gases, characterizing environmental and worker impacts); and
  • Disclosure (sharing information related to labor standards, manufacturing hazards, and sustainability).


14 self-reporting companies representing 24% of the 2008 module market share (around 6MW) supplied data (several non-module/cell makers also submitted data, including the EPIA and SEIA.) Top scores went to German manufacturers Calyxo (90), SolarWorld (88), and Sovello (73), followed by Yingli (69), First Solar (67), Abound Solar (63). Solon (50), and Solaire Direct (43), with Solar Cells Hellas (32) and JA Solar (16) rounding out the scoring. Another 15 companies did not respond, and they include some familiar names: Best Solar, Canadian Solar, DayStar, Global Solar, Konarka, Miasole, Nanosolar, Sharp, SolarFun, Solopower, Solyndra, SunPower, Suntech, Trina, and Uni-Solar.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Six companies (43%) are setting aside money to finance collection and disposal of end-of-life panels; seven (50%) provide free recycling to both residential and commercial customers.
  • Six companies have policies setting minimum EHS and/or labor standards for panel recycling (another three don’t, but would commit to developing one).
  • Eight companies (57%) would support mandatory extended producer responsibility in markets where they sell solar panels. (Four did not answer)
  • Seven companies have been analyzing their supply chain to document social/environmental impacts of different production phases.
  • Six companies require direct suppliers to follow a worker code of conduct or other publicly available standards.
  • Six companies have products containing lead, but plan to phase them out eventually (most with no timelines); six companies also reported employees doing manual lead soldering. Three companies have products with cadmium compounds and don’t plan to phase that out — that would be First Solar, Abound, and Calyxo, all in the CdTe business (though all three firms tout some form of recycling programs). Only one company uses a greenhouse gas as listed in the survey (NF3).
  • Five companies (36%) conduct lifecycle analyses of risk assessments on new chemicals, including nanomaterials.

 

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