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Promoting Transparency to Develop Environmental Standards for Solar PV

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 seven-fold, from producing just 6.4 GW of PV modules in 2009, to producing 45.3GW in 2014. Over the past six 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 six 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. 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.  

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 Participation in Solar Scorecard 2010-2015

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 2015 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 shares of respondents had significantly declined.

Twenty-nine companies have responded to the Solar Scorecard at least once in six 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 2015, 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 environmental 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. Below).

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. 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 is the only company that has responded to the Solar Scorecard every year since 2010. Subsequently, SolarWorld also has the highest average score over six years.

Industry Leaders—Responding four or more years

Company Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 5-Year Avg.
First Solar 67 87 74 55 56 59 67.8
REC 0 87 87 64 71 82 61.8
SolarWorld 88 91 91 66 73 94 84.8
SunPower 0 85 93 69 88 97 67
Suntech 0 0 86 47 58 47 38.2
Trina 0 89 94 77 92 93 70
Yingli 69 72 88 75 81 80 77

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. The companies below have participated one or more years.

Small Companies—Six Year Scores

Company Name 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 5-Year Avg.
Aleo 0 0 77 43 31 32 30.2
Avancis 0 0 79 36 44 43 31.8
Axitec 0 64 0 47 55 55 36.8
Motech 0 70 56 22 14 25 31
Solon 50 84 75 33 26 -  
Solopower 0 71 61 20 15 17 46.4
Eurener 0 60 0 17 19 22 19.6

Overview of SVTC Solar Scorecard Scoring Categories

2010 Scoring Categories

Extended Producer Responsibility and TakeBack
Supply Chain Monitoring and Green Jobs
Chemical Use and Life-cycle Analysis

2011 Scoring Categories

Extended Producer Responsibility
Workers’ Rights, Health and Safety
Chemical Use and Disclosure
Supply Chain Transparency
Lifecycle Analysis

2014-15 Scoring Categories

Extended Producer Responsibility and TakeBack
Emissions Transparency
Chemical Reduction Plan
Workers’ Rights, Health and Safety
Supply Chains
Conflict Minerals
Module Toxicity
High Value Recycling
Prison Labor
Energy and Green House Gases