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U.S. Solar Industry Taking the Lead In Promoting Sustainable Business Practices

National trade group committee proactively identifies issues and actions as industry grows

WASHINGTON – Today, leaders of the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Committee announced their 2010 priority issues. The committee met today in Anaheim, Calif., in conjunction with the 2009 Solar Power International conference. Solar energy is acknowledged to be pollution-free and reduces the emissions that cause global warming. As part of a rapidly growing manufacturing industry, SEIA’s EHS Committee members have proactively identified areas of focus in environmental, health and safety to address as the industry expands.

“We are an industry that seeks to solve environmental problems not create new ones, so we are committed to being ahead of the curve, anticipating long-term impacts and sharing best practices,” said SEIA’s EHS Committee Chair, Lisa Krueger, vice president for Sustainability at First Solar. “After assessing a variety of issues, we’ve trained our focus on five areas including solar panel recycling, fire safety, managing greenhouse gas emissions, life-cycle materials assessment across the supply-chain and communications of best practices to the industry.”

In March, SEIA established the board-level Environment, Health and Safety Committee tasked with assessing EHS industry issues, developing and issuing best practices and pursing industry solutions to ensure sustainable business practices.

“As an industry, we would like to establish voluntary industry-wide sustainable business practices for manufacturing and recycling PV modules, similar to that of the European PV Cycle Association,” said SEIA’s EHS Committee Vice Chair, Julie Blunden, vice president for Public Policy and Corporate Communications at SunPower Corp. “Europe is ahead of the U.S. market today in terms of volume of installed solar, so we have the opportunity to learn from their experiences and plan ahead now.”

“The American public overwhelmingly supports the development and use of solar energy to meet our nation’s energy needs with a clean, renewable source of fuel,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “And as the U.S. solar industry continues to grow, we need to make sure we manufacture, install and dispose of used equipment responsibly for decades to come. We will hold ourselves to higher ethical and environmental standards than the rest of the energy industry.”

The committee presented its slate of 2010 action items to the SEIA board on Oct. 9 and met today to develop 2010 work plans.

Specific priorities are:

1. Long-term Voluntary Solar Panel Recycling: Plan for long-term recycling of solar panels that are damaged or reach end-of-life after decades of use. Solar photovoltaic systems, solar thermal and concentrating solar power technologies have a life expectancy of 30 years. However, as the volume of solar installation grows in the U.S., the industry wants to plan ahead to responsibly recycle panels and other components.

2. Fire Safety: Collectively establish a national effort to track, collaborate and communicate on fire safety issues. While there have been only a few incidents of fires where the cause was suspected to be related to solar electric connections, the committee members determined that this issue should be tracked. Also, firefighters often must access rooftop space in the course of fighting a fire; the committee identified the need to work with the firefighter community to establish appropriate installation and firefighting training and techniques for buildings with solar energy equipment.

3. Managing Greenhouse Gases: Ensure industry is aware of and complies with recently released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implementation rules for tracking and reporting of identified greenhouse gas emissions. While it appears that the vast majority of solar companies are well below EPA tracking thresholds, the committee identified the need to actively liaison with EPA, communicate the rule to the industry and provide best practices and support.

4. Lifecycle Materials Assessment: Review and assess materials handling and management across the supply-chain to share best practices, ensure worker safety and identify alternative materials with lower environmental impact.

5. Communications of EHS Issues and Best Practices: The committee will collect and share best practices on a range of EHS issues with the industry. For example, the committee developed and presented its first conference session, Keeping PV Clean, at SEIA’s PV America Conference on June 8. The session will be presented a second time in an expanded format tomorrow for the larger audience expected at Solar Power International.

“Developing and using solar energy is one of the fastest ways for the U.S. to reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and address our climate change concerns,” said Krueger. “The solar industry is committed to being a leader in that effort.”

SEIA’s EHS Committee is composed of 15 representatives from 13 solar energy companies representing the full range of the industry’s supply-chain.

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About SEIA:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association is the national trade association of the solar energy industry. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers, strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Learn more at www.seia.org.
 

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