How “Green” Is Your Green Energy?

When it comes to green, renewable energy, solar PV tends to hold the high ground. More quiet than wind generators. More accessible than micro hydro. Just install your solar panels and sit back & read the good news every time your utility send you another bill, or raises their rates. Connect to the utility, or run your remote off-grid home. Nothing could be easier.

The industry has come a long way in the past 20 years, but as with any growing industry, there are growing pains. That is why there is a watchdog on duty. An organization that has been monitoring & reporting on the the environmental impact of the growing computer industry for decades. Issues such as the sourcing, use, and disposal of toxic chemicals used in manufacturing. Recycling programs. Workers rights. Because high-tech doesn’t always mean high-morals.

The organization is the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

As proponents of solar PV technology, we pay close attention to what the SVTC’s reports say about the products we choose to represent. The 2015 Solar Scorecard helped guide us through the maze of solar panel manufacturers & spec sheets towards products that were not only best-in-class, but were also the best choices from a planetary perspective.

The SVTC 2015 Solar Scorecard is available (click here).
The 2016/2017 Solar Scorecard is currently in the works.

The SVTC tracks multiple dimensions…

1. Extended Producer Responsibility
2. Emissions Transparency
3. Chemical Reduction Plan
4. Worker Rights, Health, and Safety
5. Cradle-to-Cradle Recycling
6. Supply Chain Responsibility
7. Module Toxicity
8. Biodiversity
9. Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
10. Water Usage
11. Prison Labor
12. Conflict Minerals

While it’s very interesting to see how various big name solar module producers fare on the scorecard (Hanwha near the bottom of the list, Samsung, Sharp, & CSun/HES not much higher), it is more interesting to see what prominent names are NOT on the list at all. Canadian Solar, for example, chooses not to participate in the survey at all. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have the time. Perhaps it’s because their manufacturing is highly tactical, and difficult to track honestly.

All this information is fuel for making better choices. While many people stick to a $/Watt evaluation of solar modules, we like to add the sustainability parameter to the mix. What’s the use of encouraging pollution in the creation of a non-polluting technology?
If you could have a 300 Watt solar module from a responsible manufacturer for the same price as one from a “shady” producer (pardon the pun), of course you would make that choice.

So, when you get that quote from your solar installer, or electrician, don’t just ask ‘what’ modules they offer… ask ‘why’. Most often it’s because that’s all their wholesaler carries. Or perhaps they found a great deal on last year’s model. But if you are choosing solar as a 25-50-year investment, and I’ll bet you are, then why not make a better choice now? Ask what modules they have from companies at the top of the SVTC’s scorecard list.

For the record, Modern Outpost currently favours modules from REC, LG, SolarWorld, and Trina. Our estimates & installations reflect their leadership in both technology and social responsibility.

As always, if you have any questions related to this article, or solar power in general, please feel free to contact us.

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