SunPower Reports Sustainably & Playford Could Convert Coal to Solar Thermal
SunPower has produced the first sustainability
report in the solar industry. 80% of the world’s largest companies now disclose
environmental, social, and corporate governance data in Sustainability Reports,
up from only 52% in 2005, according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Meanwhile,
the owners of Australia’s most polluting coal-fired power station, the Playford
plant in South Australia, are considering converting it to a solar thermal
facility if it is closed as part of the government’s proposed buyout of
SunPower Releases First Sustainability Report
in the Solar Industry
SustainableBusiness.com (6 Octber 2011):
SunPower (SPWRA) has produced the first
sustainability report in the solar industry.
“Our aim is to provide an accurate
account of our sustainability performance, set a baseline for improvements and
contribute to advancing sustainability in the solar industry,” the report
80% of the world’s largest companies now disclose
environmental, social, and corporate governance data in Sustainability Reports,
up from only 52% in 2005, according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI),
which provides the globally accepted framework for sustainability reporting.
Smaller companies, however, lag considerably
in such reporting. Only four companies on the Russell 2000 index of small- to
mid-cap companies reported on their greenhouse gas emissions last year, says
Pax World, a sustainable asset management firm.
Most solar firms are small to medium-sized
companies. Perhaps, because solar is considered a “clean” industry,
companies don’t feel the necessity produce such a report. The electricity from
solar is clean, but the processes and some materials needed to produce it,
aren’t. We recently saw evidence of this when protests followed when Jinko
Solar dumped hazardous waste into a river. And solar manufacturing is quite
In 2010, SunPower deployed 545 MW of solar
capacity, bringing its total cumulative capacity to 1.45 GW. By the end of
2011, the company expects it to exceed 2 GW. They have established solar panel
recycling partnerships in the US and Europe, and is advancing an industry-wide
take-back and recycling system in Europe.
Perhaps most importantly for a report of this
kind, SunPower says it’s reduced carbon emissions 45% per megawatt (MW) of
solar capacity. It’s target is to lower carbon emissions 50% by 2016.
With a wide range of energy efficiency
improvements at SunPower facilities and innovations in manufacturing processes,
the company says it’s made significant progress on reducing its carbon
intensity and is on track to continue this trend.
Also of critical importance for an industry
whose manufacturing process is water-intensive, SunPower reported it has
reduced water consumption by 450 million gallons of fresh water each year
relative to conventional water treatment systems, and plans to reduce total
water consumption per MW of solar produced 5% annually.
SunPower is pursuing LEED certification for
its headquarters, and says all new buildings will be LEED certified. It also
plans to retrofit its existing buildings to meet LEED guidelines.
Last year, the company established the
SunPower Sustainability Council to ensure focus, integration and accountability
across the business and to provide overall direction for its sustainability
We know that one of the key challenges we
face is managing the full lifecycle of our products,” says CEO Tom Werner
in the report. “As a result, our vision is to establish a fully LEED
certified “poly to panel” supply chain. We’ve already identified the
major risks, opportunities and impacts from our supply chain activities and we
have worked closely with our polysilicon, ingot, wafer, cell and manufacturing
suppliers as they seek LEED certification for their facilities.
SunPower plans to introduce a comprehensive
supply chain code of conduct in 2012 that will set out the principles of a
sustainable solar supply chain.
Source: www.sustainablebusiness.com and
Giles Parkinson in Climate Spectator (7
The owners of Australia’s most polluting
coal-fired power station, the Playford plant in South Australia, are
considering converting it to a solar thermal facility if it is closed as part
of the government’s proposed buyout of brown-coal generators.
Jeff Dimery, the head of the now privately
owned Alinta, said solar thermal technology was one of two options being
considered after the closure of the 240MW Playford, and may be an easier option
than trying to source gas for a gas-fired peaking generator, as there is no gas
pipeline to Port Augusta.
“We’re exploring the idea of building a
renewable facility and integrate that with baseload (from the remaining northern
station) and solar thermal would be ideal, as there a good sun resource in the
region,” Dimery told Climate Spectator in an interview. “The technology
requires funding, and it’s a case of needing to convince government that it is
one of better projects. We intend to explore it.”
Playford is one of four brown coal generators
eligible to make a tender for the government’s proposed buyout, which intends
to remove 2000MW of brown coal generation from the grid by 2020 in order to
reduce emissions, and create room for gas-fired generation or renewables to be
built in their place.
The solar thermal idea will not form part of
Playford’s submission – apparently it matters not what the owners of the
retiring generation plant intend to do with the funds (and some may be expected
to expatriate those funds overseas), but Dimery is confident that Playford
would be an attractive option in any case. For a start, it’s the most
polluting, at 1.7t of Co2e/MWh, the early closure of 240MW would have little
impact on the National Energy Market, and the workforce could be absorbed at
the neighbouring 520MW Northern Power Station without any forced redundancies.
That could save on government funds.
The other attraction of solar thermal is that
it could be integrated into the Northern Power Station, pre-heating boilers in
the same way that a solar booster plant will be designed to do at the Kogan
Creek power station in Queensland, and/or putting electricity directly into the
Meanwhile, Alinta also has designs on the
retail market in the eastern states, and is currently applying for a new retail
licence in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, where it plans to establish a new
retail business under its home brand, integrated with its retail platform in
WA. It is negotiating the sale of Neighbourhood Energy.
Dimery, a former AGL executive, says he
expects Alinta to be competitive with the big three utilities – AGL, Origin,
and TruEnergy – in both the retail market and the wholesale market. More
interestingly, Dimery is one of those who subscribes to the theory that the
retail market will be turned on its head in the next few years by new
technologies, and it’s the smaller players that will be better placed than the
He says the future business is inside the
house, rather than just delivering electrons to the front door. “There is a lot
of talk about smart meters, but I think they will be redundant before they come
in,” he says. He notes that many white goods manufactures are already
installing Zigbee chips in their appliances, which can offer the same
communications ability, without a smart meter.
“I think you will see retailers jump in with
the likes of Harvey Norman and have their energy plans sold through them, or an
internet service provider. The retail shop could change quite dramatically. But
we are open to all of that, and we’re having discussions with all of these
people.” Dimery says such developments could be occurring soon.
Grand plans for the Pilbara
Dimery also expanded on his company’s plans
for a transmission line in the Pilbara that would connect its gas-fired peaking
power station at Newman to Port Hedland and effectively “close the loop,”
creating a sort of mini grid that would open up options for other energy
sources as the Pilbara invests in massive new energy infrastructure.
The Pilbara interconnector – which would link
the transmission lines operated by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, and end the
almost feudal arrangements for energy supply in the region – has been on the
drawing board for many years, and was one of the favoured projects of
However, in a surprise move it was knocked
back by the WA government, but Alinta sees plenty of advantages in investing in
the transmission line, not least of all ensuring that its 178MW facility at
Newman is not stranded when its contract with BHP runs out in 2017, and because
of all the other projects that are seeking energy supplies and are finding it
almost impossible to source gas, and prohibitive to install diesel.
Dimery says energy demand in the Pilbara is
phenomenally strong. With a new grid, Alinta will consider converting its open
cycle plants into more efficient combined cycle generators, particularly with
the new carbon pricing regime. It would also create opportunities for
renewables, such as solar PV or solar thermal, to be built as part of the grid.
With the numerous gas plants in the region, many of them peakers, there is a
built in redundancy, and the Pilbara could be one of the first areas where
solar costs match that of gas.
As it is, Dimery notes, the profits that the
miners are making from their operations make them worry less about energy costs
Dimery says he is a “bit of a fan” of
renewables, given he was head of the merchant group at AGL that was responsible
for the purchase of the Southern Hydro business and was a key player in many of
their wind farm projects, including the massive Macarthur wind farm that has
“I think they have a very important role to
play in the market,” he says. “One of benefits of building a new retail base in
NEM, is that it will have a (renewable energy target) liability, and we will be
in a position to support projects. We are getting lots of traffic through here
looking for our support.”
But how important a role will they play?
“It’s a bit like asking how long a piece of string is,” he says. “There are a
number of factors that will influence renewables: new planning laws in Victoria
have made it very hard to commercialise wind farms, and that will limit the
rollout. There are similar noises coming out of NSW. There is not a whole lot
of wind in Queensland, and until there is an upgrade to the interconnector,
there is a limit to what wind can do in South Australia.
“On the upside, gas prices are going further
north – so cost of renewables are more competitive in a carbon constrained
world. The cost curve for renewables is coming down. We are seeing the cost of
PV fall at a rapid rate, solar thermal is also coming down, and then we’ll see how
successful new technologies like wave and geothermal turn out to be.”