Solar Stewardship Initiative is aiming for full roll out of scheme in December 2024 after pilot and consultation stages
The UK and Europe's solar trade associations have announced plans to develop a comprehensive corporate sustainability standard aimed at boosting the sustainability, transparency, and accountability of the industry's rapidly-growing supply chain.
The Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI), co-launched this week by Solar Energy UK and SolarPower Europe, sets out plans to develop a sustainability standard that companies in the solar supply chain can be verified against.
E.ON, Vattenfall, SSE, Centrica, Iberdrola, Engie, NextEnergy Capital, and Lightsource BP are among 50 companies that have already endorsed the Solar Stewardship Initiative.
The scheme aims to strengthen confidence in how, where and by whom products are manufactured as countries ramp up solar power capacity to meet their climate goals.
Solar is the fastest-growing segment of the clean energy market, and the International Energy Agency has predicted that solar will be Europe's main energy source by mid-century. However, human rights concerns have dogged the solar supply chain in recent years, amid accusations of forced labour having been used in China to produce polysilicon, a key component in solar panels worldwide. Moreover, campaigners have raised fears over the environmental impact of mining for some of the rare earth commodities that feature in solar technologies.
Chris Hewett, the CEO of Solar Energy UK, said the new Solar Stewardship Initiative announced today would help ensure the solar industry expanded in a way that was environmentally, ethically, and socially responsible.
"The sector must grow, and it must grow responsibly," he said. "The Solar Stewardship Initiative shows clearly how the industry takes its obligations seriously, and we are proud to support this work. The Solar Stewardship Initiative will deliver assurance which means that consumers can have confidence that the solar industry operates to the highest ethical standards."
The plan is to officially launch the SSI assurance scheme in December 2023, after testing an 'SSI Code' at several sites in different countries from next month and before running a public consultation next spring.
The SSI Code has been developed with in-put from a range of experts across environmental, social, and governance fields, as well as in the solar supply chain, according to the trade bodies. Building on a "foundation of international standards and guidelines" the Code has been designed to recognise credible and equivalent third-party standards systems in order "to avoid redundancy, audit fatigue, and to promote the use of such programmes", they added.
Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe, said: "The solar sector must grow exponentially to fight climate change, and with growth comes responsibility. Today the solar sector is showing how seriously we take that responsibility. Cutting through a complex issue, we are presenting a clear timeline towards a solution that consumers can trust - an assurance scheme that their solar products are made under the highest human rights' and sustainability standards."