Ethical Solar Panels
Last review date: Dec 2021.
Supply Chain Provenance
Transparency and accountability Standards
US: The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has developed a Solar Supply Chain Traceability Protocol that looks specifically at PV panel sourcing and manufacture (USA, April 2021). As with other protocols, this sets out a framework to provide and review information, but obviously leaves implementation up to procurement processes, and encourages buyers to check whether suppliers are implementing the protocol.
- Podcast with more info and background on the Traceability Protocol (Aug, 2021)
UK: Solar Energy UK have a page on Responsible Sourcing Guidance, and a human rights and supply chain transparency statement that companies can sign up to. They ahve formed a Responsible Sourcing Task Group, which is developing a more formal approach (Aug 2021?). More detailed methods are apparently available on request.
- Social and environmental sustainability may still be a relatively small aspect of procurement, for Local Authorities at least. The Solar Energy UK guide for Local Authorities (pdf) notes in small text that councils "may choose to put additional weighting" on social benefits.
Notes on manufacturing supply chain
- Silicon, produced under intense energy, mainly from sand.
- Local economic/militia group - Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC / "Bingtuan" - wikipedia), which may provide a third to a half of silicon for the world's solar panels.
- Ingots: Moulded, smoothed blocks made from the silion crystals. Boron is added for positive charge.
2a. Mono crystalline ingots: cells made from a single crystal of silicon. More efficient and expensive.
2b. Polysilicone cells ingots: cells made from melting several silicon crystals together. Results in "shattered glass" look.
- Daqo Group, etc.
Wafers: Ingots are sliced into paper-thin wafers.
Cells: Metal conductors added to give the grid-like matrix look. Phosphorous added at high temperature to apply negative charge.
Panel modules: Cells are linked together, and given glass front and a backsheet.
- Trina, JA Solar, Jinko, Longi, etc
(The article notes that the panel providers above often account for a quarter to a third of large installations, which begs the question of where the other panels come from and how these are audited.)
US-based Southern Energy Management have an article looking at the global nature of PV panel production (US, Apr 2018).
Ethical Consumer have a list of PV providers. At time of writing, the highest listed scores 11.5 out of 20, with most of the group being large-scale industry/architectural setups.
For smaller scale panels and USB-enabled ones, Eco-Worthy are currently the highest-ranked company (scoring 9 out of 20). There is some good rhetoric on their site, but I have yet to find detail on actions taken, or on supply chain transparency, so further investigaton is probably needed.
Jinko Solar score slightly less (8.5), but have a slightly more informative CSR page. NB. Jinko has been named as a manufacturer in Xinjiang, allegedly linked to forced labour.
NB. JA Solar and Trina Solar, also listed, have been named as manufacturers in Xinjiang as well, allegedly linked to forced labour.
Disposal and recycling
This may be personally useful for my continued USB-based solar efforts and others looking for small-scale panels, but who are interested in supply chains too.
Micro scale (10-30W, USB output):
- Not a lot so far.
Medium scale (40-100W, USB output):