What is the State of Solar Panel Recycling in the U.S.?

By StartUp City | Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Solar panels cease to be eco-friendly once decommissioned. The U.S. is now paying heed to the recycle of solar panels in favor of waste management.

FREMONT, CA: Solar Panel plays a key role in the making of greener and healthier environment. The U.S has embraced this eco-friendly technology with over 2 million solar panel installations. Solar panels are exceptionally effective when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy, but what to make of it at the end of its 30-year lifespan?

The wastage caused by the decommissioned solar panels is an impending threat to the environment. How the U.S. is preparing for the vast amount of solar panel recycling?

Garvin Heath, a senior scientist in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), remarked, “Installations two decades ago are nearing their end of life, and that becomes a challenge for the waste industry. Because it takes a long time to develop technology and policy and solutions to dealing with end-of-life products, this is something we need to start to address today.” Heath also points out that by 2050 the decommissioned solar panels could hold more than 10 percent of global electronic waste.

Solar panel recycling can provide the desired solution to this looming problem while it offers a possibility for new industries to emerge out. 

Parts of Solar Panel that can be Recycled

Glass, plastic, aluminum, and silicon comprise 99 percent of the silicon-based solar panels. It is made of 72 percent glass plus plastic, metals including lead, copper, gallium, cadmium, aluminum, and silicon solar cells. Here recycling is a bit tricky process as it involves dissembling, etching, and melting. 

Insufficient Solar Panel Policies in the U.S.

Though some states in the U.S. have taken the initiatives to put an official face to the recycling solar panel, the United States does not have any national policies regarding the issue. Washington does have a solar stewardship program in which the manufacturers collect the decommissioned panels at free of cost.

The Process of Recycling Solar Panel

The U.S. does not have a clear systematic method of recycling the panels. Recycle PV (a pioneer of comprehensive national PV recycling program) provides recycling services across the nation. Recycle PV has partnered up with PV cycle to ramp up nation-wide treatment for decommissioned solar panels. Cascade Eco Minerals, another renowned company based in the U.S. is also proffering zero-waste in-house recycling services to the people.

What is the Right Time for a Solar Panel Recycle?

A standard solar panel has an average life span of 30 years. Though it is up to the homeowners to determine when the panels should be repaired, most of the homeowners do not get the hint whether the panel is working or not. The older solar systems are more difficult to read as do not have a proper monitoring system unlike their newer counterparts. In such cases, by looking at the display on the inverter, one can determine if the solar panels are consuming power. There are windows in most of the panels that indicate the power consumption in watts or kilowatts. The customer must go through the inverter’s manual for a better understanding of the system. The green light indicates a working system, while the red light is a warning sign. As solar panels produce power only during the daylight hours, it is advisable to check the system’s performance at midday.

Recycling Policies and Options Required

The solar panel recycling options and policies are gradually gaining clarity with organizations such as SEIA and RecyclePV. They are helping to frame better and developed solar panel recycling policies and facilitating their implementation countrywide.

See Also: Top AgTech Solution Companies

Weekly Brief