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Promoting Transparency to Develop Environmental Standards for Solar PV

Solar PV has great potential to reduce fossil fuel use and address climate change—but the solar industry has not yet earned the “green” status it so often claims. SVTC strongly believes that industrywide transparency is the key to environmental sustainability for solar PV, and it can also help ensure that the industry addresses social justice issues such as worker health and safety and the use of conflict minerals.

SVTC initiated the Solar Scorecard in 2010 to promote increased solar industry transparency regarding environmental and social justice practices. Since that time, the industry has grown six-fold, from producing just 6.4 GW of PV modules in 2009, to producing 38.7 GW in 2013. Over the past five years, the Solar Scorecard has provided a framework to accurately track company practices and progress. It enables responsible companies to back up their environmental claims and compete with other companies to improve performance. At the same time, the Solar Scorecard highlights companies that have not been as transparent, thereby encouraging change and progress.

In the Scorecard’s first five years, SVTC has seen substantial industry improvement, including increased commitments to ban prison labor, to reduce or remove certain hazardous chemicals, and to publicly support Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies.

SVTC strongly believes that the market should reward companies that are committed to environmental sustainability. The Scorecard has already become a valuable tool for consumers and investors seeking to make environmentally sound choices. Since SVTC began the Solar Scorecard project, our overall goal has been to develop a set of formal industrywide standards for company performance in key environmental and social justice categories. We are now in a position to transition the Solar Scorecard into such a standard, providing a clear set of guidelines for company performance and enabling institutional purchasers and individual customers to choose “green” solar products.

Over the next two years, SVTC will develop the Scorecard into an environmental leadership standard endorsed by multiple stakeholder groups. This process typically takes 18 to 24 months. SVTC’s goal is to create a solar PV standard that meets the qualifications for consideration on the EPEAT Registry (http://www.epeat.net/).

Overview of Companies Participating in the Solar Scorecard: 2010–2014

The initial Solar Scorecard in 2010 ranked 25 selected companies, including the top ten companies (based on market share) as well as smaller San Francisco Bay Area firms. This was based on SVTC’s belief that companies with the biggest market shares have the biggest responsibility for environmental leadership; but at the same time we wanted to highlight the efforts of smaller regional companies. However, it proved challenging to compare large companies with mature production and supply chains with small startups, many which were not in the commercial production stage. Therefore, in the 2011 through 2014 Scorecards, SVTC focused on 40 large companies that make up approximately 80% of the market share.

In 2012 the Solar Scorecard experienced the highest response rate with 14 respondents representing more than 51% of the market. However, by 2012 the solar PV industry was experiencing significant disruption. The market shares of many of the largest respondents had begun to shrink as new companies entered the market. Therefore, although the actual number of companies responding did not change significantly, the total market share of respondents had significantly declined.

Twenty-four companies have responded to the Solar Scorecard at least once in five years. At least three of those companies have gone out of business (Abound, Fluitecnik, Scheuten), and several have temporarily suspended production at times due to financial issues (Solopower, Suntech).

Companies That Responded to the Solar Scorecard at Least Once in Five Years
First Solar
Fluitecnik Group
JA Solar
Solar Cell Hellas

Changes in Survey and Scoring Methodology

In 2010 and 2011, SVTC scored companies based solely on their survey responses (non-responding companies received a score of zero). In 2012 we began scoring companies based both on the survey and on information available on company websites and from publicly available sources (which we used to answer the survey questions). This methodology, also used in 2013 and 2014, provides a broader picture of industry practices.

Over the first three years of the Scorecard, the survey questions were modified each year to more effectively elicit data from companies. We also developed more stringent criteria in certain categories, based on SVTC’s ongoing solar research. At the same time, the categories used to organize the questions evolved, with the goal of providing an ultimate framework for formal industry standards. For an overview of how the Scorecard categories have evolved, see Scoring Categories.

In 2013, we instituted a set of survey questions and categories that will be used through 2016. This will enable companies to track and improve their environmental practices, while at the same time enabling SVTC to track overall industrywide progress. These questions, along with the data collected by SVTC since 2010, will also serve as a foundation for the development of formal standards. It is our hope that the non-responding companies will use the Scorecard as a means to prepare to meet a formal standard.

How Transparent is the Solar Industry? Overview of Company Scores

Industry Leaders: A core group of companies has responded almost every year, stepping up to the challenge as the Scorecard criteria became more stringent. Many of these leadership companies have invited SVTC to their facilities and have been very generous with their time. They have shared information, data, and important policies, and have offered suggestions on ways to improve the Scorecard.

Of these companies, SolarWorld has the highest average score over five years, and Yingli has the second highest score. Yingli and SolarWorld are the only companies that have responded to the Solar Scorecard every year.

Industry Leaders—Five-Year Scores

Company Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 5-Year Avg.
First Solar 67 87 74 55 56 67.8
REC 0 87 87 64 71 61.8
SolarWorld 88 91 91 66 73 81.8
SunPower 0 85 93 69 88 67
Suntech 0 0 86 47 58 38.2
Trina 0 89 94 77 92 70
Yingli 69 72 88 75 81 77

Industry Stragglers:
Jinko Solar, which had a highly publicized spill in China in 2011, has the lowest average score over the past five years. Hanwha SolarOne has the second lowest five-year average score. These low scores mean that the companies did not respond to the survey or to SVTC’s request that they post information on their websites. At least three (JA Solar, LDK, and Renesola) of the nine companies with low scores responded to the survey at least once over the past five years. Several of the non-responding companies have contacted SVTC and requested information about responding to the Scorecard but did not actually submit the survey.

Industry Stragglers—Five-Year Scores

Company Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 5-Year Avg.
Canadian Solar 0 0 2 7 14 4.6
Solar Frontier 0 0 0 15 19 6.8
Hanwha SolarOne 0 0 2 9 11 4.4
JA Solar 16 0 0 8 10 6.8
Jinko Solar 0 0 0 9 7 3.2
Kyocera 0 0 0 20 18 7.6
LDK 0 0 0 40 35 15
Renesola 0 0 11 41 37 16.6
Sharp 0 0 9 21 31 12.2

Small Companies:
As noted above, smaller companies with less than 1 percent of the market share are typically only listed in the Solar Scorecard if they participate in the annual survey.

Small Companies—Five-Year Scores

Company Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 5-Year Avg.
Aleo 0 0 77 43 31 30.2
Avancis 0 0 79 36 44 31.8
Axitec 0 64 0 47 55 33.2
Motech 0 70 56 22 14 32.4
Solon 50 84 75 33 26 53.6
Solopower 0 71 61 20 15 33.4
Eurener 0 60 0 17 19 19.2