Solar Scorecard: how green is your solar panel?

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition issues its Solar Scorecard. While some leading solar companies receive sunny marks, a suspicious dark cloud follows the environmental performances of other manufacturers.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released its second solar scorecard yesterday. The organization, which focuses on cradle-to-grave analysis of products, ranks participating companies according to the Earth friendliness of their solar panels' manufacturing and take-back methods.

The card doesn't rank how efficiently the photovoltaic panels generate electricity via the sun. That end product is pretty green in itself, but as the solar industry grows, it's wise to take a comprehensive look at the industry's effect on the environment.

From their report:

We now have a limited window of opportunity to ensure that solar does not follow the electronics industry’s toxic and unsustainable path. The solar PV industry’s rapid growth makes it critical to focus industry innovation on reducing toxic materials use and on developing products that are easier and safer to recycle.

How used panels might contribute to the world's mounting e-waste problem, the manner in which materials are sourced, and the use of toxic chemicals to manufacture them are some of the factors SVTC included in its green grading. They also took into account the companies' self-reported practices of how they check their supply chain for labor, environmental, and safety ills. The willingness to disclose such information also factored into the final score. (Companies that declined the survey got a rainy day icon next to their name.)

According to SVTC, the 15 companies that did participate represent almost half of the industry market share. Most of the manufacturers said they would support a law that made recycling solar panels mandatory. Five of the companies had taken the EPA's test to assess if toxins might leach from their solar panels (all five passed). Only two companies (SunPower and AXITEC) reported they did not use lead or cadmium in their manufacturing.

The top scorers among the 10 largest participating solar companies:

SolarWorld 91%
Trina Solar
89%
First Solar
87%
REC Solar
87%
SunPower
85%

Some of the smaller companies receiving top marks were Abound Solar, Calyxo, Solon and Sovello.

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Image: Flickr/Chandra Marsono

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com