How green is solar energy? Last year hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang for four days to protest against a solar panel manufacturing plant which they accused of contaminating a nearby river with waste products. Obviously solar is a cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels, but it’s time that consumers asked searching questions about the manufacturing process of photovoltaic technology.
San Francisco-based group As You Sow, who advocate for environmental and social corporate responsibility and accountability, have put together a report about the sustainable nature of solar energy production, entitled Clean & Green: Best Practises in Photovoltaics, aimed at providing more information to investors, consumer, suppliers and others.
The report includes the best current practises found at photovoltaic manufacturers, used to protect employees and the environment during the manufacturing process. They surveyed 100 PV manufacturers around the world and consulted scientists, engineers, academics and industry consultants to determine the best practises, which in most cases could be implemented by any PV manufacturer.
The report acknowledges the obvious benefits of solar panels over fossil fuels, in that solar is a renewable source of energy and that the manufacturing process of solar panels is safer for workers than traditional fossil fuel processing, but does not shy away from addressing the toxic substances which are used to make solar panels and the problem of some manufacturers ignoring health and safety codes and regulations.
Most usefully, the report shows how solar panel production can become more environmentally-friendly, with innovative ideas such as First Solar’s of supplying a collection and recycling program for photovoltaic panels which have passed their usefulness. Around 95% of their old panel’s semiconductor material is reused for new panels, according to the report. Until now consumers have mainly asked questions only about the cost of solar panels and perhaps how much energy could really be generated. This report highlights the importance of photovoltaic technology being manufactured and managed in a sustainable way.
It’s an illuminating read, whether you’re a consumer, manufacturer, wholesaler or solar distributor. While we all know solar is greener, we seldom ask how green solar can be. We’re more likely to look for the cheapest solar panels than the greenest ones. It’s important that manufacturers and environmental groups like As You Sow work together to create the greenest, cleanest solar energy possible. Especially when prices for the technology are beginning to drop and adoption of the technology becomes more and more commonplace.
Image used courtesy of Kevin Krejci on Flickr