Not all solar panels are created equal, according to the Ultra Low-Carbon Solar Alliance


If a main driver of the transition to renewable energy is reducing the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, shouldn’t the transition itself use the lowest-carbon means possible to achieve this goal? This idea is one that has always stuck with Michael Parr, one which led him to the foundation of the Ultra Low-Carbon Solar Alliance, which officially launched today.

The alliance is a group comprised of some of the leading renewable energy companies in the United States, all bound by the goals of building greater market awareness around how solar supply chain decarbonization is essential to produce solar panels with low embodied carbon. The alliance boasts strong solar industry representation in its founding members, with First Solar, Q CELLS and REC Silicon all hopping on board early, as well as Hemlock Semiconductor, NorSun and Wacker.

It is the hope of the alliance and its members that the increased awareness and market share of low-carbon panels will help governments and corporations meet their aggressive sustainability goals more effectively.

“People in the West are largely buying PV to avoid carbon emissions,” Parr, executive director of the alliance, told pv magazine. “And there’s this material difference in embodied carbon in panels that are on the market today. Wouldn’t it be good if, given the high rate of growth in solar that’s projected over the next five years, wouldn’t it be good if that growth followed a low-carbon trajectory?”

As stated above, the way Parr sees this idea becoming a reality is through education. He sees the sourcing of low-carbon solar components as a goal that some companies and municipalities don’t even know to look to achieve. Through education, he believes these entities will then put out solar solicitation bids that place a premium on low-carbon resources, similar to a model that has been previously instituted in France.

Under this model, the carbon savings of any new solar project are twofold, coming both over the course of the project’s generation lifespan and during the development of the project and procurement of parts.

These lofty, industry-wide goals don’t happen overnight, something Parr is acutely aware of, which is why it was so important to get industry-leading companies on board early.

“We’re working on developing a simple tool or method to allow people to specify ultra-low-carbon [solar products] with confidence,” Parr said. “Like an eco-label or something that sits on a panel and lets you know that’s been verified low-carbon. We’re also actively talking to additional companies along the value chain, trying to expand our membership.”

Educating the industry on the value and availability of low-carbon modules and components is the foundation upon which Parr sees a greater movement towards low-carbon becoming the standard.

“At the end of the day we want [ultra-low-carbon] to expand dramatically, to the point where it sends the kind of market signal that changes the future trajectory,” Parr said. “That’ll be with a standard methodology. That’s a part of our core effort as well. We’re kind of firing on multiple cylinders at once: to accelerate the near-term deployment and the longer-term structural change within the industry… the next generation or the next evolution of sustainability in solar.”

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