Monday, January 30, 2023

Stuart Smith: Ethical Trade vs Solar Panels

We have rooftop solar at home which has proven to be a sound investment and has made us far more aware of our electricity consumption, thanks to the helpful app. We’ve consciously changed how we consume electricity, to maximise our use of solar power.

Last year New Zealand’s distributed solar generation capacity increased by 33.8 per cent, which is a record increase, so there are many others also enjoying the benefits of rooftop solar.

However, have you ever wondered where solar panels are manufactured and what goes into making them?

Aluminum, copper, indium, lead, molybdenum, nickel, silver and zinc are all used, but it is polysilicon, an essential material in solar panels, that is currently causing some controversy.

China dominates the production of polysilicon which is largely manufactured in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where China has been widely criticised for its alleged use of forced labour and high emissions.

Recently, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order banning imports from XUAR unless the importer can prove that forced labour was not used in their production.

This will be difficult, given the region’s almost total dominance in manufacturing polysilicon: Polysilicon produced in other regions of China, or elsewhere in the world, inevitably flows through the polysilicon ingot factories in China, where it is blended with polysilicon from XUAR.

Industry insiders say that it is almost impossible to buy a silicon-based solar panel in the US that is not suspect. I do not know whether this is the case here, but it would be good to know.

Solar will play an important role in our energy sector, and for homeowners who can lower their electricity bills significantly.

That said we should do all we can to ensure that the products we import are as ethically produced as possible. While we cannot reasonably expect to trade only with nations with the same labour and human rights laws as we do, we must do our best to ensure we are not supporting overt human exploitation.

Stuart Smith is a N Z National Party politician who has been a member of the House of Representatives for the Kaikōura electorate since 2014. This article was first published HERE


DeeM said...

I'd love to know the payback period on your solar panels, Stuart.
And how long they last before you have to buy another set...and dispose of the old ones.
And how much power you generate in winter when power consumption is usually highest.

And it's a strong bet that your panels are sourced from China with all those human rights concerns.

Ray S said...

My cynical nature tells me that applying ethics to purchases is of little concern to most people when price is the dominant factor.
If we talk about consumption of metals in manufacture of solar panels, that also is of little concern when buying.

If these thing were of concern, very few, if any, would be sold.

As an aside, solar is of no use if energy produced by solar is not stored and or some form of back or stand by is not available.

robert Artgur said...

Where solar is adopted soley to avoid emissions it is, as with other measures, vital to assess whole of life whole world CO2 emissons.

Kiwialan said...

Stuart, I have 16 solar panels on my roof facing North for the winter sun, a 10kWh house battery and a BEV with a 64kWh battery which gives a range of approx 520 km so works well for me. Plus get 15 cents per unit from Meridian for the surplus power exported to the grid. Kiwialan.

K said...

With only a 20 year life what happens when replacement time rolls around? How to dispose of them? I gather any form of recycling is not possible (yet).
What did the setup cost kiwialan?

Anonymous said...

Kiwialan. What's the rate of return calculation?

Kiwialan said...

Sorry for the delay in answering the questions, off to hospital twice for pneumonia so a bit buggered. We bought a show home that had 8 275 watt panels and a 2kW inverter but we wanted to be self sustainable after previous long power cuts in Waipara so added 8 325 watt panels , a 5kW inverter, a 10kWh battery, an emergency power system and a bigger amp plug in the garage for charging the car. Cost just under 20K I think, the money is irrelevant because we just wanted to be independent of the power companies, not relying on others is important to us. Kiwialan.

Kiwialan said...

Forgot to mention the panels and battery made in South Korea . Kiwialan.