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Use of ‘Conflict Materials’ Casts a Shadow on Solar Manufacturers


21solar-pic-articleLarge-v2If you are one of these people sitting there thinking that by installing solar panels you are doing a good thing for the environment, you might actually be wrong. According to a US-based non-profit group, a great number of panels are produced using toxic materials and under unacceptable worker safety conditions.

The data were collected by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), an organization, which has been conducting surveys on solar panel manufacturers for the past 5 years. Annually, the non-profit group releases a report, which ranks companies based on a number of criteria including working conditions at the factories, concentrations of toxic elements in the products, supply chains, recycling policies and strategies, and even impact on the environment.

The outcome of this year’s analysis is far from positive. For starters, only 25% of the companies that have been contacted sent a response to the group, which is a significant drop in comparison with previous years.  It also became very apparent that the huge increase in total number of solar manufacturers has not led to improvement in working conditions and environmental practices. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The surveyors noted that there is a great rise in the so-called ‘white box’ solar makers, or companies that offer low price products, at the cost of the environment.

There are also numerous cases of manufacturers using rare-earth elements that have been mined at terrible conditions in third world, war-torn, countries, where the profit from the sales is used to finance terrorist groups. SVTC refers to these materials as ‘conflict minerals‘, and accuses all companies that cannot provide documentation for verification of supply chains.

On the positive note, the world’s leading manufacturers have ticked almost all the boxes. The top three highest rated makers of solar panels are the Chinese Trina, the American SunPower, and at the third place another Chinese one- Yingli.

Image (c) Getty

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