In 2009, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition sent up a flare bright enough that it could be seen through the glare of a midday sun: “Although the solar [photovoltaics] boom is still in its early stages, disturbing global trends are beginning to emerge,” the group wrote in a white paper [PDF] that went on to detail the risks of careless manufacturing practices and make recommendations for keeping PV from descending in an abyss of environmental degradation.
If that was the stick, wielded to beat back the potential negative consequences of solar power, As You Sow now offers the carrot. Or at least, a decidedly gentler, more positive approach. The group’s new, 52-page report, “Clean & Green, Best Practices in Photovoltaics” [PDF], turns the spotlight not on where the PV industry is falling short, but on where it is following through on the promise of delivering truly clean energy.
At the report’s foundation is the reminder—you might even call it a rallying declaration—that PV, whatever its possible shortcomings or challenges, is a whole hell of a lot better than that miserable fuel extracted from below ground.
“Even though there are toxic compounds used in the manufacturing of most solar panels, the generation of electricity from solar energy is significantly safer to the environment and workers than production of electricity from coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission,” the report states. “For example, once a solar panel is installed, it generates electricity with zero emissions whereas in 2010, coal-fired power plants in the United States emitted 1,999.6 million tons of carbon dioxide and there were 13,200 deaths in the U.S. directly attributable to particulates from coal-fired power plants.”