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Silicon Valley advocacy group rates solar module manufacturers


U.S.-based solar cell companies are getting a cloudy rating from a Silicon Valley environmental advocacy group, which released a score card of solar manufacturers Tuesday.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s first solar performance report measures photovoltaic module manufacturing based on factors including environmental health and safety, sustainability, workers’ rights and social justice.

German companies Calyxo, SolarWorld and Sovello topped the rankings with high scores of 90, 88 and 73, respectively. But the two companies based in the U.S. – First Solar Inc. of Arizona and Abound Solar of Colorado – scored 67 and 63.

The coalition reached out in 2009 to more than 200 solar photovoltaic companies based on a list culled from trade show literature, Web searches and industry association directories. After concluding that roughly 30% were in commercial production while the rest were still in pilot production or the research-and- development stage, the coalition sent a survey to 25 companies in October.

The 14 companies that responded represent 24% of 2008’s module market share, according to the coalition. The nonprofit advocacy group has conducted several similar surveys on the environmental effects of other technologies and said it hopes the solar industry phases out pollutants such as lead and other toxic chemicals from its products.

Eight companies said they would support mandatory take-back and recycling programs for solar panels at the end of their life spans, and six firms said they are setting aside funds for collecting and disposing of the panels.

Half of the respondents said they would provide free recycling services. Six companies said their products contain lead, but all intend to eventually phase out the metal.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Solar panels from a new Chevron testing facility near Bakersfield. Credit: Tomas Ovalle / For The Times
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