Clean power is well and good, but how clean is it?
Renewable energy sometimes comes under attack. How often have you heard someone say:
• Don’t they use toxic chemicals and heavy metals to manufacture solar panels?
• You can’t recycle panels.
• I hear manufacture of solar requires lots of fossil fuel energy.
• I hear solar power uses a huge amount of water in manufacturing.
We are going to address all of these misconceptions and give you the facts about solar sustainability.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition reports a thorough scorecard every year for solar manufacturers. Some of the materials they are concerned about include:
In 2008 a Washington Post reporter found suppliers of silicon dumping silicon tetrachloride, a toxic byproduct, onto farmland in China causing health and environmental hazards. This byproduct can actually be captured and used to create more silicon in a process that requires less energy than extracting it raw but the equipment involved is very expensive. Suppliers cutting corners led to toxic dumping. Now, leading solar companies like SunPower require their suppliers to retain and reuse silicon tetrachloride for silicon production. An additional article is here.
Thin-film panels which are essentially printed on glass, are made with cadmium and require special disposal methods. SunPower cells are made with no heavy metals and do not require hazardous waste disposal.
That brings us to…
Want to know if there’s a take-back program at the panel ‘s end-of-life? YES! SunPower panels have a life of up to 40 years, and the company is leading the industry effort to launch the first US national recycling program. SunPower covers the cost of end of life disposal of all their product.
Manufacturing and Shipping:
The source of electricity to manufacture solar cells is another potential problem: if the electricity is largely from coal-fired plants, the panels have a larger carbon footprint.
So, in China where electricity is primarily coal-fired, the carbon pollution is double that of panels produced in the US or Europe. Add in the pollution of transcontinental shipping, and it takes twice as long for the clean energy produced to offset the greenhouse gases emitted in making the panel.
Water to cool and operate fossil fuel and nuclear power plants is much greater than that used for solar production. Most water waste comes from washing dust off panel surfaces, which can be reused as greywater for vegetation.
SunPower panels led the SVTC Solar Scorecard for 2015 with a 97 of 100, rated for manufacturing practices, labor conditions, environmental standards for products, safety of materials, and company recycling of products.
SunPower’s factory in Mexico meets Cradle-to-Cradle Silver Certification, adhering to stringent standards of sustainability for materials, safety, energy and water use, and worker conditions as well as recycling for all materials. SunPower’s manufacturing plant is also third-party verified as landfill-free; each achievement is a first for the industry. SunPower products are designed for peace of mind at every step of the way. (6 )
Sustainability is important to you. It’s important to us at Grassroots Solar, and that is why we think that our customers should Demand Better Solar.