Today’s Panels can be Tomorrow’s Panels
If you’ve seen the video circulating on social media that claims the renewable energy industry will cause a huge environmental disaster when solar panels and wind turbines are thrown away at the end of their life (and for some undisclosed reason, not recycled), I’m sure your initial response, like ours, was probably ‘that doesn’t pass the sniff test’.
And, you would be 100% right on that point. Solar panels, consist of up to 96-98% reusable/recyclable materials, which means recycling solar panels to get the materials for future panels is possible, and just smart. It is true that there are no big recycling programs dedicated to solar panels right now. Because, right now, the majority of solar panels systems in service today, were installed in just the last decade or so. Those solar panels in use now aren’t even close to reaching the end of life, so recycling those panels is a ways down the road. In a 2016 International Renewable Energy Agency Report, End-Of-Life Management, projects that:
Recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock an estimated stock of 78 million tonnes of raw materials and other valuable components globally by 2050.
How Recycling Solar Will Work
Here’s how the process is already working. Note that there won’t be a significant amount of panels that need recycling the US until 2030 and the process is already in place in Europe. Also, companies like Sunpower and First Solar, already have ‘take back’ programs for their panels, so they can recycle those materials into new solar panels in the future.
**Infographic source: https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2017/10/the-opportunities-of-solar-panel-recycling
It makes good business sense to recycle solar panels to take advantage of those materials for the next generation of panels. And, it makes good sustainability sense. It’s something called the circular economy or cradle to cradle manufacturing.