Solar Energy UK and SolarPower Europe aim to tackle solar supply issues via the Solar Stewardship Initiative. Image: AMP Clean Energy.

Solar Energy UK and SolarPower Europe have jointly launched the Solar Stewardship Initiative (SSI) detailing plans to develop responsible, transparent and sustainable solar value chains.

A core instrument of the Initiative is the SSI Code, a comprehensive corporate sustainability standard, which is set to be piloted at several sites in different countries in October 2022, and then open to public consultation in spring 2023.

The information gathered from the pilot projects will allow the code to be adjusted accordingly to optimise its effectiveness.

Following completion of the consultation and publication of the SSI Code, applications will be accepted for verification assessments with the full roll-out of the SSI assurance scheme expected next year, in December 2023.

“The solar sector must grow exponentially to fight climate change, and with growth comes responsibility,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe.

“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.”

Hemetsberger disclosed in a webinar accompanying the announcement that there are five core objectives to the SSI. These include ensuring the energy transition is just, inclusive and respects human rights, and to ensure it establishes mechanisms to create supply chain transparency on the origin of materials and components to ensure integrity in the global solar industry.

As well as this, Hemetsberger stated the SSI will focus on enabling continuous improvement of ESG performance, build the confidence of regulators, customers and business partners in the sustainability of the solar value chain and prepare the community for relevant upcoming laws and regulations in responsible supply chains.

Alexia Ruvoletto, senior policy advisor on trade at SolarPower Europe, indicated the initiative is defined as a solar-specific value chain assurance programme with a unique approach, factoring in ESG assurances and transparency on the origin of materials and components.

It has been disclosed that over 50 solar companies, from across the solar value chain, have endorsed the work and goals of the SSI. Ruvoletto added that it has 30 sponsors which include both buyers and suppliers of solar PV which cover a major market share.

“The solar sector is a vital part of the solution to the core challenges we face: climate change, the cost of living crisis, and ensuring our energy security. The sector must grow, and it must grow responsibly,” said Chris Hewett, CEO of Solar Energy UK.

“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.”

In tackling sustainable supply chains, one particular area that could be boosted is investor confidence. By creating more transparent supply chains, with traceable origins for solar energy, it will allow investors to define how green a certain project could be. This could in turn increase investment within the sector and provide a much-needed boost to the rollout of solar technologies across the globe.

Solar supply chains have been under increased scrutiny with the UK government confirming last year it was investigating allegations of forced labour in the global solar supply chain. These allegations led to the US enacting import sanctions on specific upstream manufacturers in Xinjiang, China.

Because of this, a global collection of 175 solar manufacturers, utilities and developers including SunPower, ENGIE North America, Tesla and LONGi signed a pledge to ensure the supply chain is free of forced labour in February 2021. The SSI will support global companies with this commitment.