Skip to main content

Every Solar Project Beats a Fossil Fuel Plant, But We Can Make Solar Even Cleaner – Here’s How

Focus on supply chains is at an all-time high. The COVID-19 pandemic and the looming climate crisis have forced many companies to rethink how they build their products and procure materials.

Up until this point, much of the focus on supply chain sustainability and decarbonizing has been on energy-intensive industries like cement, steel and glass. But the renewable energy industry also has a unique opportunity to decarbonize its supply chains, and some companies are already leading the way.

While all renewable energy is better than fossil fuels, renewable energy can be an energy-intensive manufacturing sector. This is especially the case in parts of the solar supply chain. A study by Argonne National Laboratory found significant differences in embodied carbon depending on how and where solar panels are made. For example, PV modules produced with polysilicon from China have twice the embodied carbon as modules made with US/EU produced polysilicon. In addition, some thin film solar panel technologies show similar performance.

Some companies, including US and EU manufacturers, are already taking action to drive down energy consumption and use clean energy in making solar products. They have decreased the embodied carbon in solar panels substantially – by up to 50%.

Solar with lower embodied carbon – what we’re calling “ultra low-carbon solar” – is already available in the market from multiple producers. You just need to ask for it. Countries such as France and South Korea are already taking steps to ensure their projects are, in fact, ultra low-carbon solar. Both countries have regulations that set limits on embodied carbon in solar projects.

Policymakers and sustainability leaders have an opportunity to follow these countries’ lead to both reduce their energy projects’ carbon intensity and more broadly decarbonize the solar supply chain. They can do this by specifying the use of ultra low-carbon solar.

With solar slated to grow dramatically, this kind of market signal would avoid significant future carbon emissions from solar manufacturing. And by taking these steps, we can boost clean energy manufacturing and secure supply chains when we need it the most, making the future of solar even brighter.

So not all solar is created equal. The world deserves the type of solar that helps companies and policymakers achieve a 50% reduction in embodied carbon at no additional cost with added economic benefits.

We’re launching this alliance (and this blog) to advance ultra low-carbon solar in markets across the US and the globe. Here’s to making it happen!