Solar Industry Could Use More Transparency
The non-profit Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has released a report analyzing the sustainability of solar module manufacturing, and the results are quite interesting. Unfortunately, the coalition did not hear from many companies that it surveyed - it estimates that respondents to the survey (14 out of 60) represent about 24% of the 2008 module market share. Still, as it's the first time the report has been issued, it's a useful start.
Based on the responses, the STVC graded module makers on four broad sustainability metrics: extended producer responsibility and takeback, supply chain monitoring and green jobs, chemical use and life-cycle analysis, and disclosure. You can read more about the criteria on the coalition website.
Two important sustainability snags that the report exposed was the need for companies to plan to take back, recycle and otherwise handle end-of-life issues for their solar modules. Six companies reported setting aside financing for this. Another issue is the use of hazardous materials in the modules - the most common bad actors are lead and cadmium.
The largest producer to respond to the survey was First Solar, which received a fairly positive score of 67 points out of 100. But many solar firms we've heard a lot about recently did not respond to the survey including Nanosolar, Solyndra, SunPower, Suntech and Trina.
Is it time for solar module makers to begin to benchmark and disclose their sustainability efforts? Perhaps SVTC's report will reach consumers and businesses who are trying to choose among the leading module producers. Or possibly this is a role that solar industry trade groups can take on, similar to the work the American Chemistry Council does with its Responsible Care program.