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The solar challenge: How to choose solar panels which are sustainably made without using slavery. Is it possible?

Person installing solar panels

The Newcastle Green House is owned by Nadine Samwell, founder and editor of Eco Edition and interior designer.

Follow my journey as a (first time) owner builder.


Our architect, Anthrosite, is working hard at finalising the documentation package for our home so it can be given to the builder for pricing, and an important part of this package is the selection of the solar panels. Our roof will almost entirely be covered by them and we hope to be able to run as much of the house off solar as we can.

Our aim is to install solar panels and live for a year or so then assess our usage patterns before we look into installing a battery. I like the idea of being able to run the house off a battery at night, but I don’t like the prices of them at the moment so we’ll hold off for a little while.

So for now, the decision is about which solar panels to use, and this has proven to be quite complicated. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

“Choosing solar panels that are sustainably made without using slavery is an important step towards a better future for both the environment and society.”

Below are some tips on how to choose solar panels that are both eco-friendly and ethically produced:

Firstly, look for solar panel manufacturers that have a transparent supply chain. This means that they disclose where their materials come from and what their labor practices are like. Some companies even have certifications that ensure their products are made without the use of forced labor or child labor.

In the 2023 Global Slavery Index has recognised solar panels as being amongst a group of goods which are at risk of being produced using slave labour. The complex manufacturing processes involved in their production create many, many tiers in the supply chain. The more tiers in the supply chain, the less transparent the supply chain becomes and this can expose people to exploitation. An area of concern mentioned in the 2023 Global Slavery Index is manufacturing of polysilicon in the Uyghur region. Polysilicon is a critical component in solar panels and an estimated 45% of the world’s supply is manufactured in the Uyghur region. It has been reported that there is a body of evidence, dating back to 2018, of state imposed force labour on the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region region of China. The US are blocking imported solar panels from various manufacturers in this region however they seem to be the only country to have done this so far.

As you can see, it’s important for us to be aware of the potential exposure to slave labour when we’re researching which solar panels are suitable for our homes.

Secondly, consider the materials used in the production of the solar panels. Ideally, the panels should be made from recycled materials and have a minimal environmental impact. Some solar panels are made from toxic materials, so make sure to research the materials used and look for panels that are free from hazardous chemicals.

Thirdly, consider the company’s overall sustainability practices. Do they have a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint and minimising waste? Do they have a system in place for responsibly disposing of old solar panels? These are all important factors to consider when choosing solar panels.

Finally, consider the warranty and durability of the solar panels. A high-quality solar panel should last for at least 25 years, so make sure the manufacturer offers a warranty that covers this lifespan.

As you can see, choosing sustainably made solar panels without using slavery requires some research and due diligence. However, it is a worthwhile investment in a cleaner, more sustainable future.

When I started my search for solar panels, below is the list of items I considered:

 How long had the supplier been in the industry for
What type of warranty did they offer
Where is the manufacturer owned and based
Does the manufacturer have any publicly available ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) initiatives.

I discovered a supplier which is based in Australia (where I live) and sources their panels from regions which are considered to have low exposure to the use of slave labour. This is the best exposure level attainable as, sadly, there is no such thing as zero exposure. I also discovered they have strong environmental commitments and have attained Cradle to Cradle bronze certification, as well as actively tracking and reducing waste and water management in their manufacturing facilities.

I was hoping to find a website or database to help me compare the ESG initiatives of the solar manufacturers but all I could find were websites which compared the durability, cost, feed in tariffs, and reliability of the solar panel installers – all worthy considerations for sure, but I was hoping to learn more.

This means it is up to us, the homeowners, to do research ourselves, to ask questions and to move on when we don’t find the answers we want, or when we don’t get any answers at all.

I’m confident I’ve found the right product which suits our needs and our sustainability goals, so now it’s time to test whether they suit our budget too.

Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve got any tips on how you chose solar panels for your home, of if you have any questions about choosing solar panels. I’m always keen to hear from you.

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