The Solar and electronic industries are close cousins. Will solar industry adopt the same toxic ways?
At the recent International Solar Power Conference held in San Diego, I tapped a guy on the shoulder and asked him if he was news reporter Robert Mullins, who I’ve met on a few occasions and who recently penned a piece covering the environmental issues of solar manufacturing (http://earth2tech.com/?s=cigs).
“I am if it involves money,” was the guy’s response.
He wasn’t who I thought, but his response summed up the attitude of most of the 20,000 attendees at the Solar Power International (SPI). With the promise of addressing climate change, green jobs, and energy independence, and a $75 million investment tax credit the solar industry saw itself as a “bright spot” among the doom and gloom hanging over the nation. Despite the fact that the conference is being held in the middle of an economic meltdown, the ISPC attendance had doubled this year.
By all reports, the solar industry has a higher “melting point” than the rest of the economy. And it’s not surprising that consumer electronics companies, that still seem to have a lot of cash, are playing a predominant role in solar investing and technology transfer. Just yesterday Intel invested $2o million (http://www.reuters.com/article/mergersNews/idUSPEK9021720081028) in a Chinese thin film solar company and Google is well-known for their investments in solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy technologies.
Sharp and Sanyo were among the SPI sponsors and among the top 10 global PV cell manufacturers. Siemens, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, IBM and other electronic companies are making panels, reclaiming silicon or investing in solar power supplies and other peripherals for electronic products. Electronic equipment maker Applied Materials Santa Clara County facility is invested heavily in transferring chipmaking and flat panel display manufacturing technology to the solar production line (link).
It’s troubling that the solar industry, with so many economic and environmental bright spots, may end up adopting the toxics production processes of the electronics’ industry and that the panels may inherit the same hazardous end of life waste problems (link to SVTC info). In Santa Clara County the electronics industry has a legacy of contaminated water and 29 superfund sites, which the county is still clean up 25 years after the initial chemical spills.
The solar industry has the potential to create an estimated 440,000 new jobs and contribute $232 billion to the economy over the next 8 years (link to energy foundation report). At SVTC we want the solar industry to succeed at addressing climate change, create sustainable renewable energy supply.
Unlike the electronics industry, the solar industry has an opportunity to shine the light on potential environmental problems and correct them before they create an environmental waste crisis similar to the electronics industry, while trying to find solutions to the climate change crisis.
I almost forgot to mention, our blog was initially just for the trip to India, but it was so successful, we’re going to keep on blogging!