Greening Solar Panel Production

A new report outlining the best practices for solar panel manufacturers has concluded that while the production of solar power remains much cleaner than fossil fuel overall, the industry can further improve its standards and should not rest on its laurels.

The report, “Clean & Green: Best Practices in Photovoltaics,” was released by non-profit advocacy group As You Sow, which promotes responsibility in business through a combination of shareholder and legal action.

Coming just a week after the USA’s Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced it would urge members to adhere to a commitment to environmental and social responsibility, the As You Sow report is a study of best practices of the top 100 PV manufacturing companies from around the world and identifies what can be done to reduce environmental, public health, and safety risks.

While solar generated electricity is 100 percent clean and environmentally safe compared to burning fossil fuels such as coal or oil, the report states, “the industry faces additional challenges because large-scale manufacturing of solar panels currently requires the use of several compounds that are toxic to humans or the environment.”

However, according to report author, Amy Galland, PhD, Research Director at As You Sow, any toxic by-product from the manufacture of solar panels pales in comparison to the waste emitted each year from fossil fuels.

“Once a solar panel is installed, it generates electricity with no emissions of any kind for decades, whereas coal-fired power plants in the U.S. emitted nearly two billion tons of carbon dioxide and millions of tons of toxic compounds in 2010 alone.”

While inefficiencies remain in the sector, the report found many solar companies surveyed – including some of the world’s largest suppliers of PV materials such as Suntech Corp – already beat standards set for carbon emissions, and are self-regulating in terms of improving environmental, social and corporate responsibility.

Other manufacturers to make great strides in greening solar panel production noted include REC. REC solar panels have an energy payback time of one year due to the company’s fluidised bed reactor (FBR) silicon production process that uses up to 90 percent less energy than traditional methods.