Sustainability has become increasingly important for the envisaged single market for green products in the European Union and globally. Today, electricity is being benchmarked and labelled with a multitude of multi- and one-dimensional criteria (e.g. Carbon Footprint, Green Sourcing etc). Moreover, environmental footprint has become part of the tender criteria for renewable energy in some countries and will most likely become more relevant in the electricity markets of the future.

In the framework of the Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019, the European Commission is currently exploring the possibility of applying policy instruments such as Ecodesign, Energy Labelling and Ecolabel to solar modules, inverters and systems. The Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives are the two pillars of the European policy for energy-efficient products. Products covered by the Ecodesign Directive can only be put on the European market if they fulfil minimum requirements related to energy efficiency and circular economy. The EU Ecolabel is a voluntary label promoting environmental excellence by identifying products and services with reduced environmental impact.

Join SolarPower Europe’s Sustainability Task Force​

The Sustainability Task Force accompanies and participates in various sustainability-related initiatives. The current focus of the Task Force is delivering the solar industry’s input to the Preparatory study evaluating the possibility of applying Ecodesign, Energy Labelling, Green Public Procurement or Ecolabel to solar modules, inverters and systems. The Preparatory study, launched in October 2017 and carried out by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, is a two-year project with an intensive stakeholder consultation process.

SolarPower Europe’s Sustainability Task Force plays a key role in this consultation. After the publication of the Preparatory study in 2019, the Task Force will carry on participating in any ensuing regulatory process representing the solar industry which could last up to two years. Moreover, further EU regulatory changes around hazardous materials and recycling are expected in the near future, something the Task Force will be closely following.

If you are interested in joining this Workstream, contact Raffaele Rossi.

Solar factsheets

Solar is one of the most sustainable sources of electricity – or is it? There are many myths out there pointing to an alleged “dark side” of solar, such as “materials used for solar panels are bad for the environment” and “manufacturing solar panels requires more energy than what is recovered during the entire lifetime of the solar panel”. The truth is that the environmental footprint of a unit of solar power generated is only a fraction of the footprint of conventional technologies. Therefore, solar offers the most cost-efficient means to decouple electricity generation from environmental and health impacts.

Solar panels generate around 30 times more power during their lifetime than what is required to manufacture them. This means that a solar panel “pays back” the power that was needed to manufacture it in less than a year on average – a figure that, similarly to the environmental footprint of solar, is constantly improving as solar is becoming more mature.

The Sustainability Workstream has published a set of Solar Factsheets covering a number of sustainability-related issues around solar power, such as environmental impact, recycling and materials criticality, with the objective of conclusively debunking myths around solar.

SolarPower Europe Statement: Abiding by Human Rights Standards​

We strongly condemn the use of forced labour and are committed to investigating the issue further, which has been the subject of reports related to the solar supply chain in China’s Xinjiang region, in order to better understand the context and production dynamic. We take these media reports very seriously, and as a sector that strives for the highest standard of sustainability, we must be vigilant to ensure that the entire supply chain follows global human rights standards. We urge our members to respect the labour and human rights standards outlined in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work or the UN Global Compact, and to abide by existing guidelines and standards on sustainability practices, including labour practices, across the supply chain; such as the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, or the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. As other European sectors are in the same situation as solar, this brings attention to the importance of increasing the transparency of the global supply chain, in collaboration with these other sectors. We will actively contribute to the work of the European Union in this regard, in particular on corporate governance, draft EU Taxonomy rules, and the public procurement framework. We are looking forward to further cooperation with the EU and national governments, and count on their support in addressing human rights violations. In parallel, we are working with our members to improve supply chain transparency and will share best practices to ensure that the solar sector remains a champion of sustainability. With the goal of diversifying the solar supply chain, we strongly support the strengthening of an EU solar industrial base to improve Europe’s position in the supply chain, while remaining integrated in an open, global market for solar and other sustainable technologies.

“Regulators, businesses, private consumers and customers in many regions of the world have shown an increased interest in sustainability and environmental performance of solar. Developing life cycle assessments and standardised approaches in environmental footprinting helps to demonstrate the advantages of solar in comparison to fossil energy and helps to portray the ongoing innovations in eco-design and sustainability of solar”

Andreas Wade
First Solar, Workstream leader

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