The Most Sustainable Solar Companies

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Ed Gunther

Trina Solar scores 94 to lead the 2012 SVTC photovoltaic (PV) solar sustainability survey.

Making the SEIA Solar Commitment.

SVTC Solar Scorecard

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) released the 2012 SOLAR SCORECARD [.pdf subset] just in time for the SNEC 6th (2012) International Solar Industry and Photovoltaic Exhibition & Conference in Shanghai, China. Trina Solar Limited (NYSE:TSL) achieved the best result followed by SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWR) at 93, and CASM (Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing) protagonist SolarWorld AG (OTC:SRWRF) with 91.

In SVTC’s own words:

The Scorecard reveals how companies perform on SVTC’s sustainability and social justice benchmarks to ensure that the PV manufacturers protect workers, communities, and the environment.

SVTC has posted both a score summary and the entire survey as completed by each of the fourteen (14) firms that responded. The Solar Scorecard is said to represent 51% of global PV market share although the data source was not cited. SVTC Executive Director Sheila Davis told me the survey was sent to approximately 120 companies worldwide via postal mail and each was contacted subsequently to insure receipt and awareness.

Using the Top 10 module manufacturers of 2011 according to IMS Research as a framework, the Top 3 module manufacturers Suntech (NYSE:STP, with a score of 86), First Solar (NASD:FSLR, with a score of 74), and Yingli (NYSE:YGE, with a score of 88) responded to the SVTC survey, whereas the remaining five (5) Top 10 PV module manufacturers elected to not respond: Canadian Solar (NASD:CSIQ, with a score of 2), Sharp (OTC:SHCAY with a score of 9), Hanwha SolarOne (NASD:HSOL, with a score of 2), JinkoSolar (NYSE:JKS, with a score of 0), and LDK Solar (NYSE:LDK, with a score of 0). SVTC scored these non-responders using information posted on each respective website. Granted, PV companies are still learning about the Solar Scorecard and may not grasp its significance. Please note SolarWorld was not a Top 10 PV module manufacturer in 2011 per IMS Research.

Among the companies not responding with a score of zero (0), JinkoSolar Holding Co., Ltd. (NYSE:JKS) faced a Frankenstein like villagers protest last year because their Zhejiang, China, factory “discharges waste into the river and spews dense smoke out of a dozen chimneys.” Per “China quells village solar pollution protests” by David Stanway for Reuters, riot police broke up the protest after three days using “heavy-handed tactics”. It seems JinkoSolar did not learn much from resolving the incident.

In one of the key Solar Scorecard findings:

92% companies responding to the survey said they would publicly support extended producer responsibility, up from 57% in 2010.

Module take back programs are more than just for recycling twenty plus (20+) year old end of life modules but also about taking care of manufacturing defects and field returns because of breakage. Furthermore, producer responsibility extends beyond modules to the business exits and bankruptcies of PV manufacturers. “Solyndra Not Dealing With Toxic Waste At Milpitas Facility” again sets a worst case example and might force new manufacturing entrants to post a bond or otherwise prefund factory cleanup in the case of a company failure or shutdown. However, such contingencies are too late for the PV industry consolidation phase already underway.

In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has yet to organize a national PV module take back and recycling program despite making the issue a priority in the 2009 press release, “U.S. SOLAR INDUSTRY TAKING THE LEAD IN PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS PRACTICES”. However, “SEIA Releases Solar Industry Commitment to Environmental and Social Responsibility” renewed and expanded the efforts at PV America West this year with a voluntary Solar Commitment program.

The SEIA should go further to encourage or by full member manufacturer consensus require participation in independent sustainability surveys like the Solar Scorecard. Likewise, a similar independent review would reinforce and reward sustainable sourcing and best practices in the downstream development, finance, installation, and Operations and Maintenance portions of the PV value chain.

SVTC has also created The Life Cycle of Photovoltaics (PV) visual website to follow each stage of a solar panel’s product life along with associated risks from the raw material supply chain through end of life for the Crystalline Silicon and Cadmium Telluride material sets with Amorphous Silicon and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) coming soon.

Kudos to SoloPower (61) for responding to the 2012 Solar Scorecard while San Jose crossroad CIGS start-up Nanosolar was once again a no show.

DISCLOSURE: No position in any of the stocks m

Edgar Gunther is a photovoltaic enthusiast who researches and pens the GUNTHER Portfolio under the Photovoltaic Blogger moniker. The GUNTHER Portfolio is an eclectic collection of niche Blog posts about solar photovoltaic technologies, companies, industry developments, and occasional energy politics sprinkled with insight, analysis, and irreverent commentary.


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