- SPE’s Solar Sustainability Best Practices Benchmark aims to guide and encourage solar industry to adopt sustainable practices to produce and operate solar power system
- A lot of issues would need to be dealt with at the manufacturing level, but would also need be explored under several other sustainability areas
- Policymakers too need to support the efforts with encouraging policy frameworks
One of the most cost competitive power generation technologies in the world today that’s also sustainably sourced from right under the sun, solar power is set to become one of the ‘major pillars’ of the world’s energy supply in the future. It, nonetheless, still comes with a carbon footprint, mainly at the manufacturing level.
As a collective effort, the solar industry as well as policymakers are working to further bring down solar’s carbon footprint, but more needs to be done especially in the context of ‘increased attention to sustainability matters across the European Union (EU) and beyond’, according to a report released by European solar PV lobby association SolarPower Europe (SPE).
Launched during the recently concluded SolarPower Summit, the Solar Sustainability Best Practices Benchmark by SPE aims to provide ‘guidance and encourage solar companies to show leadership in sustainability’, while taking a closer look at different sustainability areas basis environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in the solar supply chain.
The report looks at taking 3 sets of actions, namely:
- identifying key sustainability challenges in the solar industry,
- collecting good practices and approaches to address these challenges; and
- identifying hands-on examples that apply such good practices, with the aim of encouraging other players to implement them too.
These points are then explored for 7 sustainability areas each covered in the form of a dedicated chapter, identified as carbon footprint, circularity, sustainable supply chain, biodiversity in large-scale solar, planning and designing for public acceptance, human rights, and supply chain transparency.
Referring to some case studies, the report suggests approaches and best practices to lower solar PV carbon emissions, starting with consuming as little energy possible in the manufacturing process especially in the production of polysilicon that has the ‘largest impact on the whole lifecycle emissions’ due to it being an energy intensive process.
Similarly addressing solar PV waste at the end of the working life of a panel is also a challenge. The report cites some estimates that suggest by 2030 cumulative PV waste could amount to as much as 8 million MT by 2030, growing to a massive 60-70 MT by 2050. Needless to say, efforts need to start today to recycle the and reuse the same in a sustainable manner. Analysts recommend manufacturers to choose materials that are easier to treat and recycle that are devoid of any hazardous substances, nipping the problem in the bud so to say.
Policy initiatives are also equally important to address this challenge the industry would be facing in the future, and SPE mentions the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) saying it covers a lot of these issues.
“For the solar sector, sustainability considerations need to be made at all levels of the value chain. Considerations must address a variety of areas, spanning from ecosystem preservation and biodiversity impacts, to evaluating decent working conditions, social inclusiveness, and gender equality levels,” explained Deputy CEO and Policy Director of SolarPower Europe, Aurélie Beauvais. “With this first report on Solar Sustainability we hope to actively contribute to further positioning the European solar sector as a sustainability leader, and supporting the transition of European solar companies and businesses towards state-of-the art sustainability best practices.”
The report is available on SPE’s website for free download.