mandag 29. mars 2010

How green are solar companies, really? SVTC ranks them for you

An environmental group pushing the solar power industry to adopt best practices for “greener” manufacturing has released a scorecard showing which companies rated highest on solar panel recycling and other environmental efforts.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), a nonprofit based in San Jose, Calif., released its SolarScorecard — the first of what it plans to make an annual survey. The report lists 24 leading makers of photovoltaic (PV) solar modules and one maker of solar cells supplied to module makers. While only 14 companies responded to the survey, they represent a 24 percent share of the market for solar modules.
The companies were rated on a scale of 1 to 100 based on whether they take back solar modules they’ve sold at the end of their life for recycling, whether they seek to reduce the use of environmentally hazardous materials in making solar panels, whether they monitor the green practices of their supply chain partners, and how transparent they are in disclosing their own manufacturing practices.
The SVTC, which was founded to fight the mounting problem of e-waste — like tossed computers and TV sets — which contains lead and other hazardous materials, wants to get out in front of environmental issues surrounding solar while the industry is still relatively young, said Sheila Davis, executive director of the organization.
More than 50 percent of solar module makers surveyed are still in startup or pilot mode, which means these environmental issues may not be top of mind for them yet — but they should be, Davis said.
The survey is a followup to a 2009 report from SVTC that identified toxic substances used in the manufacture of solar modules, such as cadmium, cadmium-telluride, indium and selenium. These materials need to be handled carefully in the manufacturing process or can end up posing a risk if they seep into groundwater.
One of the manufacturers that scored highest in the survey is SolarWorld, which earned 90 points and a gold star for launching a voluntary take-back and recycling program.
“It’s great to get validation from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition because it, too, wants to hold the industry to a higher standard so we applaud their efforts,” said Ben Santarris, public affairs manager for the Hillsboro, Ore.-based company.
SolarWorld operates a recycling facility in Germany, and has served as a contract recycler under the European Union’s voluntary PV Cycle solar recycling program. Recycling the materials in solar panels makes good business sense, Santarris said, because some of the materials can be reused in new panels, saving SolarWorld money.
“By recycling the silicon from the modules, we reuse that material and so it’s a raw material that we give a second life to,” he said.
While lauding SolarWorld’s voluntary recycling, the SVTC’s Davis doesn’t think a voluntary program would work in the U.S.
“To truly recycle properly takes an investment, and companies need to have a level playing field in order to make that investment,” she said.
The survey was funded by Henderson Global Investors, a London-based asset management firm that invests about $1.5 billion in what it calls “sustainable, responsible investments” (SRI), or green tech.
Seb Below, who manages the SRI fund for Henderson, said “I’m not wedded to the idea of mandatory take backs,” and called the nascent voluntary PV Cycle program in the EU “a very promising initiative.”
“Unfortunately today, the vast majority of voluntary industry initiatives tend not to be very effective,” Below said.
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Tags: photovoltaic, Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition, solar modules, SVTC
Companies: Henderson Global Investors, SolarWorld
People: Ben Santarris, Seb Below, Sheila Davis

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