8 August 2017
First Solar beats its greenhouse-gas emissions reduction target, while reducing manufacturing energy intensity
First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA, which makes thin-film photovoltaic modules based on cadmium telluride (CdTe) as well as providing engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) services, has released its annual sustainability report, which highlights its environmental and safety performance progress, utility-scale PV project development practices, and the anticipated sustainability and performance advantages of its next-generation Series 6 module technology.
Since 2008, the firm has almost halved its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity, surpassing its goal of a 35% company-wide reduction by 2016. The decline in emissions intensity was the combined result of an increase in module efficiency, manufacturing throughput and capacity utilization, decreased emissions intensity of purchased grid electricity, along with energy conservation and low-carbon initiatives.
Data released as part of the 2017 Sustainability Report shows that it has also reduced its manufacturing energy intensity by 30% from 2009 to 2016. Notably, although production volume increased by 24% in 2016, First Solar reduced its absolute water withdrawals by 4% and saved more than 185 million liters (about 49 million gallons) by recycling water at its manufacturing facility in Malaysia.
“Thanks to our thin-film technology and efficient manufacturing process, the environmental impact of a First Solar PV system is about two-thirds lower than the average PV system available in the market today,” claims CEO Mark Widmar (citing a report Wyss et al, ‘PEF screening report of electricity from photovoltaic panels in the context of the EU Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCR) Pilots v.2.0’, 24 April 2016). “In fact, our new Series 6 module technology is expected to further increase that gap,” he adds. “We now deliver high-performance PV modules that can successfully compete against silicon panels, while also delivering the fastest energy payback time and the lowest lifecycle impact in the industry.”
First Solar has also tracked a 74% reduction in manufacturing waste intensity, from 35.1 grams per watt produced in 2009 to 9.1 grams per watt in 2016. Its recycling program – claimed to be unique in the PV module manufacturing industry – recovers 90% of the semiconductor material and glass from decommissioned modules.
“The reduction in our environmental footprint is entirely by design; the result of taking a long-term view on continuously improving our environmental performance,” says Alex Heard, senior VP of global technical services. “Our commitment remains stronger than ever, and we will continue to work to improve our performance.”