Sustainable, environmentally responsible controls and practices for the PV industry

by Andy McIntyre, executive VP, managing principal, and founder, EORM

May 14, 2009 – Photovoltaic (PV) technologies provide energy with distinct environmental benefits over traditional energy generating technologies, which have given the PV industry a strong reputation as a “green industry.”

With the rapid increase in demand (both consumer and commercial) for PV products, it is essential that the PV industry fulfill the perception of being a green industry by avoiding many of the past environmental, health & safety (EHS) pitfalls encountered during the expansion of similar high-technology industries. Experience with the semiconductor industry over the last three decades has provided a clear EHS roadmap for the PV industry to follow.

Issues such as elevated chemical exposures to production employees, groundwater contamination, air emissions of environmentally sensitive effluents and electronic waste burden can be mitigated or avoided entirely with the proper planning and attention to detail. Although EHS may fall down on the list of priorities during periods of rapid growth, experience demonstrates that small investments now will produce huge benefits later. And, given the PV industry’s green reputation, a strong commitment to world-class EHS management systems is a critical business priority.

There are many similarities between the manufacturing processes between the PV and semiconductor industries. Both employ a wide array of hazardous production materials that warrant a high degree of EHS controls to provide appropriate protection for both workers and the environment.

As our global energy and environmental challenges spur rapid growth in PV demand, it is imperative that the industry lives up to its green reputation and avoids the EHS pitfalls encountered by the semiconductor industry. In addition, this industry has both the opportunity and the business imperative to strive for world-class performance in sustainable and environmentally responsible practices.

As a starting point, the PV industry should give strong consideration to leveraging the Semiconductor and Equipment Materials International (SEMI) Safety Guidelines for Manufacturing Equipment. Designing manufacturing equipment with environmental health and safety in mind will serve as an important foundation for sustainable and environmentally responsible practices.

In particular, SEMI’s Safety Guideline, SEMI S2-0706e, “Environmental Health and Safety Guideline for Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment” provides comprehensive performance based guidelines for the safe manufacture of high technology equipment with the following criteria serving as its charter:

  • Create a comprehensive performance-based set of guidelines to serve as a basis from which hazards could be designed out of equipment;
  • Assure that the criteria defined would not inhibit the advancement of technology (i.e., not be technology-limiting); and
  • Serve as the baseline safety requirements for equipment used in the semiconductor device manufacturing industry.

This environmental health and safety performance guideline is immediately transferable to the PV industry, given the parallels to semiconductor R&D and manufacturing processes. Capital equipment suppliers building tools for the PV industry should be held accountable to design and deliver safe, reliable process equipment that minimizes the potential to cause injury, meets current environmental requirements, and prevents worker health issues. Requiring conformance to SEMI S2-0706e by PV industry end-user customers will help to achieve this objective.

In subsequent articles, we will explore this Design for Environmental Health and Safety topic further, as well as other important EHS considerations for the development of sustainable and environmentally responsible PV industry, including:

  • Key EHS considerations associated with equipment installation;
  • Control of chemical and physical hazards;
  • Product stewardship, lifecycle analysis and management of the overall environmental footprint;
  • Human factors and ergonomic considerations; and
  • De-Installation and decommissioning

    Andrew McIntyre, CIH is managing principal and co-founder of Environmental and Occupational Risk Management (EORM). E-mail: [email protected], Web site:

    This article was originally published by Photovoltaics World.


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