Saving the planet with solar… and without compromise

Budel Solar Farm

Barbara Flesche, CEO, calls for collaboration to ensure we maintain the highest of standards as the solar industry continues on this incredible growth journey

All market studies seem to agree: the projected growth rates for solar are staggering. Even BP now foresees solar becoming the fastest-growing energy source ever witnessed. It’s unbelievably exciting to watch the unfettered success of solar and to see the impact we are having on decarbonisation – and at such a pace. Speaking personally, this is my biggest source of hope for the fight against climate chaos. But at the same time, I am concerned.

Can we avoid this coming at a cost that by today’s standards, we would consider too high. It’s all too easy to envisage a scenario with less ethical actors entering the market, where undue pressure is put on communities, where there are ethical violations in the supply chain in a bid to hit targets and to cut costs, and for land to be used inappropriately be it through deforestation or a lack of improvements in biodiversity. (Let’s not forget that solar is both a technology business and an energy business. Neither sector has withstood exponential growth untarnished!)

I can well imagine conversations where people who challenge compromises in standards are told they don’t understand the competitive pressure, or the need to hit targets for shareholders, or the need to deliver for less and less cost.

And it’s for this reason, we welcome any and all collaboration from the sector to grasp this enormous challenge. And it’s also good news that we are starting to witness increasing scrutiny from investors.

And how unforgiveable if we don’t collectively get going on this as a sector – perhaps by starting with our environmental impact.

At a recent presentation from Mark Lewis of BNP Paribas Asset Management, Mark outlined how BNPPAM which manages circa €400 billion, wants to reach a point where they know how many degrees of heat is contained within their portfolio. That’s a wonderful ambition and is going to require a fair degree of mechanistic, detailed understanding which in turn is going to put pressure on the likes of us to know more than we currently do about our carbon footprint and zero carbon strategies.

I envisage a time when we can package up a solar farm for investment and be really specific about its footprint. That is easy to do on the production side as in how much CO2 will be avoided, but harder to do on the construction side.

Solarcentury is midway through our own footprinting analysis. The process consists of three main tranches of work.

  1. Defining the scope of our emissions
  2. Measuring those emissions
  3. Setting a target to reduce and remove said emissions

We seem to be starting from scratch. It’s taken some time to figure out how to map our activity to the greenhouse gas accounting standards. And the only measurement papers we could find were highly dense academic studies. On reflection, I’m surprised there isn’t a better starting point for how to define emissions for companies like us in the solar sector. And I’m also surprised by there not being any readily available benchmarks or data sources for emissions that go beyond just a handful of manufacturers.

It’s certainly my belief that we should be more open source about the way we approach these tasks.

  • Let’s approach this period of rapid growth with our eyes open and welcome the increasing scrutiny we will be facing
  • Let’s share with each other our carbon footprinting exploration – and get to some kind of industry standard
  • And let’s use this as a starting point to explore how we maintain the highest of standards while we continue on this incredible growth journey.

Many of us in the sector got into this business because we care about the planet and the injustices we see being perpetrated: losses in biodiversity, extinction of species, the effects of drought or wildfire or hurricanes. So as we continue to grow let’s not compromise on our own high standards; let’s hold onto our unjaded and inclusive approach to solar development.