What happens when solar panels get old?

Typically, in the United States, solar panels are recycled in general-purpose glass recycling facilities, where their glass and sometimes their metal frames are recycled, and the remaining components are discarded or burned. Most solar manufacturers claim that their panels will last about 25 years, and the world didn't begin to implement solar energy extensively until the early 2000s. As a result, a fairly small number of solar panels are being dismantled today. PV CYCLE, a non-profit organization dedicated to the recovery and recycling of solar panels, collects several thousand tons of solar electronic waste across the European Union every year, according to director Jan Clyncke.

That figure includes solar panels that have reached the end of their useful life, but also those that were removed early because they were damaged during a storm, had some type of manufacturing defect, or were replaced by a newer, more efficient model. The first step is to pay a fee for the purchase of solar panels to ensure that the cost of safely removing, recycling or storing waste from solar panels is internalized in the price of solar panels and is not externalized to future taxpayers. An obvious solution would be to impose a new fee on solar panels that would go to a federal disposal and decommissioning fund. Then, in the future, funds would be distributed to state and local governments to pay for the disposal and recycling or long-term storage of solar panel waste.

The advantage of this fund over extended producer liability is that it would ensure that solar panels are dismantled, recycled or stored safely in the long term, even after solar manufacturers file for bankruptcy. Some waste facilities can recycle solar panels using mechanical methods. Most take out the aluminum frame and grind all the glass, silicon, and other metals into a mixture called scrap glass, which can be sold for building materials or other industrial applications. What's left of the broken solar panels is recycled, discarded, or subjected to a refinery disposal process.

Broken solar panels are never left “landfills” for future generations to worry about later. In the United States, the law governing the disposal of solar panels is called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which applies to all solid waste. Reusing solar panels makes sense for small off-grid applications, where producing electricity in a super-efficient way with the latest solar technology is not essential. Panels only represent, at most, about half the cost of a residential solar panel, and the rest of the equipment and permits account for the rest.

The industry is new and continues to grow, with researchers examining how to commercialize recycling to economically recover most of the components of a solar panel. Wise leaders in the solar industry can learn from the past and be proactive in pursuing stricter regulation in line with growing scientific evidence that solar panels pose a risk of toxic chemical pollution. The DTSC described building a database where solar panels and their toxicity could be tracked by their model numbers, but it is not clear that DTSC does so. Unless damage occurs from natural disasters or accidents, modern solar panels have an expected lifespan of 30 years or more.

Solar panel recycling suppliers follow federal and state environmental regulations (important if you are a business) and take broken solar panels through a process that collects any usable parts, components and scrap. Recycling solar panels is still at an early stage, but as the solar market continues to expand, recycling processes will have an increasingly important role to play. In Europe, solar panel manufacturers must manage the recycling of their panels once they have reached the end of their useful life. Thanks to constant declines in solar energy prices, more and more households and businesses are choosing to invest in solar energy systems.

These specialists offer some benefits, including environmental compliance and a straightforward approach to refinery that eliminates any chance of broken solar panels ending up in landfills or being randomly refurbished and resold to unwitting consumers. About 90% of commercial solar panels use silicon as a semiconductor, which converts light into electricity. . .