Responsible Solar

One of the books I’m currently reading asks, “ARE GREEN JOBS JUST JOBS?” The answer is: it depends on where you live.

“When you think about the emerging green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard-hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines. Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.”

Van Jones, Founder of Green For All

For us in Canada Solar Energy provides enormous benefits. From job creation to a higher quality of life, reduced air pollution and elimination of Green House Gas emissions. But as our company has discovered it is becoming increasingly more difficult, if not impossible, to find USA/Canadian made solar panels and inverters: manufactured in North America from start to finish. This matters to many of our prospective clients, who want to buy entirely “local” manufactured Solar components. Made by Joe and Rosie!

China has 47% of the globe’s crystalline silicon and thin-film photovoltaic cell manufacturing capacity (2016), these photovoltaic cells are later assembled into photovoltaic modules of which China possesses 51% of the globe’s capacity. The US by comparison has 2% of the globe’s cell manufacturing, and 4% of the module manufacturing capacity (2016). It is no surprise then that the majority of components or finished panels and inverters imported to Canada come from China.

This is a worry for many of our prospective BC clients as they recall the Washington Post 2008 report on trucks dumping silicon tetrachloride waste in nearby farmers’ fields. It makes for a terrifying read. We know that poor waste management practices are the primary environmental concern in the manufacture of photovoltaics. Are all green jobs, just jobs? Not if you work for a company that does not protect its workers and the communities it operates in from “accidents, exposure to hazards, fugitive and permitted emissions, or sloppy chemical stewardship.” (Dustin Mulvaney)

In 2011, as more of the world became aware of the risks posed by the manufacture and mining for green energy technology, China’s administration stepped in and established a standard 98.5% of silicon tetrachloride waste was to be recycled into trichlorosilane feedstock to make more polisilicon. From the research I have done, it seems to have been a success: it naturally caused a consolidation of manufacturing under large entities with the depth to invest in the expensive equipment needed to meet the new standards.

When we choose a supplier one of the key factors we look at is their corporate citizenry. We, as many environmentally savvy groups are, worry about the impact of contract manufacturing and offshoring to countries or territories that do not have infrastructure to effectively protect their communities, workers and environment. It’s important to know who and where the actual solar component we are importing was manufactured.

Energy Justice is a concept that is worth talking about whenever we discuss the enormous benefits to us of Solar. We believe that we can all benefit from solar, that creating just and sustainable solar energy commodity supply chains is crucial.

If you’d like to know more we’d love to hear from you. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Raj Gurm

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