We talk a lot on this blog about how solar panels can cut monthlyelectricity costs and, in some states (like New Jersey, California,Arizona, Hawaii, Colorado and Pennsylvania) offer homeowners astunningly attractive return on investment. Sometimes it’s worthremembering, however, that solar panels produce clean, emissions-freeelectricity. In other words, solar power can be good for your checkbookand for the environment.
It would make sense, then, if one of the world’s most well established solar panel manufacturers were to join a growing movement in the corporate world to measure and report its greenhouse gas emissions. That’s exactly what happened yesterday when SunPower Corporation announced it submitted its first response to the Carbon DisclosureProject (CDP), an organization that “works with shareholders andbusinesses to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions of majorcorporations.” The group exists in part to help companies prep forfuture climate- and carbon-related regulation.
Now, in the case of SunPower, there’s a bit of a snafu. As notedabove, solar panels generate electricity without producing greenhousegases. But that doesn’t mean that the energy used to make the panelsthemselves comes from an emissions-free source. It’s not unthinkable, in other words, that a solar panel maker would purchase electricitygenerated using coal or natural gas.
(Important side note: on balance, the amount of energy that goes into making a solar panel is significantly less than the amount of energyproduced over that panel’s lifetime. See here for more.)
All these observations point to an obvious question: Does SunPoweradd up all the greenhouse gas emissions released during themanufacturing process and then subtract the carbon-dioxide emissionsthat are offset by the solar panels? Or does the company count only theemissions released during normal operations, ignoring the effect of itsend product?
As much as SunPower executives seem to want — and potentially deserve — credit for producing a carbon net-negative product, it appearsSunPower will be reporting its so-called “internal” carbon footprint.Here’s SunPower Tom Werner:
Beyond our internal carbon footprint reductions, oursolar rooftop systems and power plants operate without generatinggreenhouse gas emissions, and therefore our customers’ use of SunPowersystems avoids many times the amount of greenhouse gases generated intheir own manufacturing and delivery operations.
As far as we’re aware, the California-based solar panel maker is thefirst solar power company to submit information to the CDP. If you knowof any other solar companies that are involved in similar initiatives,please bring them to our attention.