When are photovoltaic panels recycled?
Rarely. With an average lifespan of about 30 years, crystalline silicon solar panels are reliable. Nevertheless, given the quick expansion of the solar sector, the number of photovoltaic panels needing to be recycled or thrown away in the coming years will certainly continue to rise. More and more panels will get to completion of their life early. There is a call on solar manufacturers to innovate and the victor here may walk away with all the spoils and market share.
Which parts of solar panels can be recycled?
Recycling photovoltaic panels is effective if the products used to develop them are able to be repurposed 30 or more years later. Solar panels are made from a number of components, consisting of:
- Silicon solar cells
- Metal framing
- Glass sheets
It’s clear that a number of the core parts of photovoltaic panels can be recycled on their own. Glass, metal, and wiring can all be reused as well as recycled. Silicon cells, the component that is most necessary to create electrical energy, are somewhat of a grey area in terms of repurpose. While silicon wafers are not recyclable like glass and plastic, some specialty environmental protection companies are able to reuse silicon cells by refining them as well as reclaiming the silicon and various metals.
The problem with recycling solar panels isn’t that the materials they are made from are a challenge to reuse; rather, it’s that they are constructed from lots of parts all synchronized with each other in one product. Dividing those products and reusing them in a unique way is a complex and potentially expensive process.
Solar panel recycling options
What are the existing alternatives for reusing your old photovoltaic panels? Solar panels have commonly been reused at general function glass recycling centers, where the steel frameworks, as well as glass parts, are recovered but the remaining parts are disposed of or burned. Nowadays, there are a couple of organizations functioning to make solar panel component recovery mainstream:
Unlike the U.S., Europe has an industrialized solar market. Because of government laws, European solar panel owners must recycle their panels in accordance with the law once they reach end of life. This has actually developed a market for panel recyclers, one of which is Veolia.
Veolia has partnered with the non-profit PV Cycle in Europe to accumulate as well as recycle solar panels. They opened their very first recycling plant in 2018, where robots dismantle and remove glass, silicon, plastics, and metals from solar panels.
One company wanting to bring solar component salvage to the U.S. is Recycle PV. The business has difficulty operating due to the lack of governmental solar recycling regulations. Regardless of this, Recycle PV is partnering with PV Cycle to aid in relocation of U.S. panels to the appropriate facilities in Europe. This initiative is only having a small impact. With European panel reusing initiatives, teams like Recycle PV will continue to see the demand for their recycling services grow over the next ten years.
Solar Power Industries Association (SEIA)
SEIA has a PV recycling working group that selects reusing companions providing benefits to SEIA participants. These companions provide special prices to the SEIA members, nationwide transport of panels for recycling if required and reuse photovoltaic panels if they’re operational and suit applications within their network. One example of a SEIA recycling companion is the company Cleanlites. Cleanlites run recycling centers that aren’t committed just to solar; however, they can handle recycling panels as well as other solar tools.
A brilliant example of solar reusing initiatives originates from producers and also First Solar run international recycling programs for their consumers, allowing them to return old solar panels (frequently via teams like PV Cycle) to the manufacturer to be reused or repurposed.