Great Lakes Company Powers Solar & Seeks to Become Even More Sustainable

Few people realize that an essential material for solar energy comes from the Great Lakes region. Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC), located in Hemlock, Michigan, is one of the world’s leading producers of polycrystalline silicon, the preferred material of leading photovoltaic manufacturers. 

The path to solar energy requires significant energy, however, so when HSC CEO Mark Bassett, Ph.D.  decided to lead his company on a quest for ever-more sustainable operations with emphasis on ‘de-carbonizing’ the company’s supply chain, he sought a global expert. He didn’t have to go far. This episode of ‘Supply Chain Matters,’ features Neil Hawkins, Ph.D., president of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and former Chief Sustainability Officer of Dow, where the two were once colleagues.

“We’re seeking ideas and fostering effective collaboration to be a leader—not a follower—in decarbonizing global supply chains,” said Bassett. “As we’ve looked at the value chain in the solar industry, we’ve come to realize that not every solar panel is created equal.  Depending on how and where the components were made, the embedded carbon in an ultra-low carbon solar panel array may be 50% less than a standard solar panel array. If you look at a 100-megawatt solar array—which is fairly standard—the difference between an ultra-low carbon solar panel array and a standard one can represent something like 100,000 fewer cars on the road.”

Hawkins had advice, “Whenever I am asked for advice regarding sustainability, I think of the value proposition for a company and there are four primary parts. First, there is the bottom-line growth. Secondly, there is top line growth. Third, there is attracting, retaining, and developing of top talent.  Finally, you need to have platforms for collaboration.”

Hawkins observed HSC’s business aligns quite well especially on the first two points. “Solar technology is something the world wants moving forward. It’s good business for the long haul.  Does it matter that you build an equivalent (or better) product with a lower carbon profile? Absolutely.”

Collaboration is critical to sustainability and sustainable business. “Talk to actors up and down your supply chain and to your right and left–governments and NGOs—and then find a set of partners who want to help carry this forward together and tell the story together and get to the end point, which is sustainable alternative electricity with the lowest carbon footprint possible as fast as possible.”

At the Council of the Great Lakes Region, we couldn’t agree more about the importance of collaboration between a diverse set of interests and perspectives. In fact, helping businesses connect with other companies, government, academia, and broader non-profit sector to tackle big problems in Great Lakes is at the core of what we do. If you are interested in joining a dialogue on sustainable energy in the Great Lakes region, contact Laura Asiala, CGLR Sr. Director of Business Engagement.

You can watch or listen to their whole conversation here:

Solar cell photo by Michael Wilson on Unsplash.

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