Sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips, and it means more than simply reducing emissions. To be sustainable requires taking into account the environmental, economic, and social dimension of the entire value chain. Solar is the most sustainable energy source not just because of its low carbon footprint, but also because it leads to increased energy self-sufficiency, and is highly job-intensive, creating more jobs per installed watt than any other power generation source. Innovative solar applications, such as floating solar and agrisolar, also show how solar can enhance biodiversity.
The solar industry aims to strengthen its leadership on the sustainability front, and the ambitious European Green Deal provides the perfect framework to cement sustainability as a guiding principle. Right now, the EU solar industry is gearing up to align with upcoming EU sustainable product policies such as Ecodesign and Energy Label on PV products, which will further raise the bar for solar’s sustainability ambitions.
We take this occasion to shine a spotlight on companies leading the charge with sustainability efforts. Our third sustainability champion, Imco Goudswaard, works for DSM Advanced Solar, whose material technology boosts solar performance worldwide through everything from Anti-Reflective and Anti-Soiling coatings for solar glass, to next-generation backsheets for solar modules. Their goal is to improve the levelized cost of energy and make affordable, clean solar energy widely available.
1. What does sustainability mean to you?
For me, sustainability has multiple dimensions: environmental, social, and economic. To be sustainable, a product, activity, or industry must score at a level that secures long-term existence, generation to generation, and is accepted by society, on all three dimensions. Evidently, we can not claim that a low-carbon energy source such as solar is sustainable as long as there is social injustice in manufacturing, we dump our waste in landfills, or there is a functional imbalance in land use.
2. What does your company do to support sustainability in solar?
It is our ambition to make ‘clean’ electricity accessible for all by developing and selling solar PV material solutions that lower the cost of solar electricity. For us, ‘clean electricity’ represents every sustainability dimension I mentioned above. When developing our products, we conduct a full life cycle analysis to assess the environmental and social impact, and all our new products should have a lower impact than the mainstream solution in the market. We classify that as ‘Brighter Living Solutions’ and it ensures we make a positive impact with our products.
3. Which sustainability areas do you focus on, and why?
We develop backsheet solutions that enable the PV industry to become more circular and lower its environmental and social footprint at a competitive cost. For instance, our co-extruded Endurance backsheet is a fully recyclable product made without solvent-based adhesives and fluoropolymers, and has a 30% lower carbon footprint. So, in terms of sustainability, our focus is particularly on the responsible use of resources and the circular economy, the 12thSustainable Development Goal. We see upcoming waste volumes as one of the biggest sustainability challenges for the PV industry and feel that, with our skills and focus on backsheets, we can contribute to solving that challenge.
4. How does sustainability impact your day-to-day job?
Sustainability is a key driver of our strategy as a company. Of course, as the sustainability lead, I am confronted with the topic on a daily basis. Next to actively improving our footprint, through our products we enable our customers to lower their footprint. Furthermore, we advocate for a more sustainable PV industry by promoting the sustainability values of our products, participating in industry task forces, and presenting our vision on how to improve sustainability within the PV industry.
5. How can Europeans get involved to make their lives and the continent more sustainable?
European citizens can get involved by buying more sustainable products and adopting a more sustainable way of living. The former requires improved transparency in product composition and a product’s environmental and social impact. This, in fact, is exactly what we are trying to establish via the new eco-design directive for PV modules and inverters. As an example of adopting more sustainable ways of living, Europeans can take energy efficiency measurements, repurpose wasted products, eat fewer animal proteins, and replace intra-EU flying with long-distance trains.
Photo: Nuno Marques / Unsplash