Solar Scorecard Assesses the Manufacture of Solar Panels
Solar panels are one of the greenest and least controversial types of renewable power generation technology. Some neighborhoods don’t like how they look on roofs of houses, but there are no concerns about harming wildlife, as with wind turbines or tidal power systems. And the technology to make them is continuing to improve.
But not all solar panels are created equally. Solar panels are energy intensive to produce, and potentially harmful materials such as
cadmium and lead are sometimes used in their production. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has begun to assemble a ‘Solar Scorecard‘ that evaluates solar panel manufacturers.
There are already standards in place for other kinds of electronics. EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) rates information technology equipment such as desktop and laptop computers and monitors. The European Union’s RoHS Directive also mandates restrictions on the use of six hazardous materials in electronic equipment: Lead (Pb); Mercury (Hg); Cadmium (Cd); Hexavalent chromium (Cr6+); Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB); Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). The Solar Scorecard offers a voluntary rating system like EPEAT to rate the greenness of the manufacturing process for solar panels. Solar Scorecard used the RoHS list to identify the chemicals to inquire about in their survey.
The Solar Scorecard site indicates that six of the responding companies’ survey answers said that they presently use lead in their modules, but all also said that they have plans to phase it out. Three companies indicated that they use cadmium compounds, but none of those have present plans to phase out those chemicals. However, none of the responding companies use mercury, hexavalent chromium (Cr6+), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), or polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE).
Because the Scorecard is based on company self-reporting, presently there are only ten PV module manufacturers and one solar cell manufacturer with scores listed. Four compaies also have a gold star, indicating that the company “has a takeback program and has policies against exporting waste and using prison labor to dismantle end-of-life panels.”
Scoring is based on a 100-point scale, with four major categories: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Takeback, which deals with end-of-life and recycling for the panels; Supply Chain Monitoring and Green Jobs, which looks at employee exposure to toxic materials among other issues; Chemical Use and Lifecycle Analysis, which looks at
hazardous material use; and Disclosure, which considers a company’s transparency about these issues. The survey was originally sent to 227 solar PV companies in October 2009 and the survey dealine was extended to late January 2010. Hopefully more companies will respond and the listing can be kept current in coming years, providing consumers with more information about the panels they are considering.
If you are considering buying solar panels for your own project, this information might be useful in evaluating different suppliers of solar panels. If you are the kind of person who pays attention to other rating systems like EPEAT, why wouldn’t you also look at those same considerations for solar panels?
A shorter, earlier version of this article appeared on EcoGeek. Edited to correct typo on number of surveys sent.