A solar panels are warranted to perform their best for 25 years. So because the first major wave of solar panel installation was around 2010, the United States has about 15 years before solar panel recycling becomes a major issue. However, a surge in PV panel waste is coming and it pays to prepare. By 2050, there will be ten-million tons of PV waste volume in North America
Luckily, much of the materials in silicon and thin-film panels can be recycled,
However, the process is lengthy, energy intensive, and can produce noxious gases. Feel free to take a moment to geek out on this graphic about the recycling process.
Europe already has several recycling facilities, and as these facilities ramp up in volume intake the value proposition for recycling the panel materials over being landfilled is likely to grow. many European governments already mandate recycling for every PV system. But every day solar bids outside of Europe are moving forward without any provision for solar panel recycling, which risks thousands of panels to be improperly disposed of after usable life. There is some leadership in the US on this front. Washington state in the US has passed a solar stewardship bill, (ESSB 5939), requiring manufacturers selling solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Additionally, companies like First Solar and SunPower offer bidders a global recycling service agreement, for a cost.
It’s important to raise awareness and elevate the concern about solar PV recycling. If public pressure is placed on companies to incorporate recycling standards into the solar bids that are being made as we speak, the contracts will be put in place for the coming decades, sealing the deal for PV as a truly sustainable energy resource.
Want to learn more and discuss the topic? BERC is having a discussion about this on Wed 4/1/20, 5-6pm PST, at https://berkeley.zoom.us/j/3832046906. All are welcome to join!
This post and ensuing discussion will be based on this article: https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2018/04/its-time-to-plan-for-solar-panel-recycling-in-the-united-states/
Infographics from here: https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2017/10/the-opportunities-of-solar-panel-recycling
And if you want a deep dive: https://www.irena.org/documentdownloads/publications/irena_ieapvps_end-of-life_solar_pv_panels_2016.pdf