Another Landfill Item?

This is a summation, along with excerpts, from an article I saw in Resource Recycling.  It should help answer a few questions that many of us have about what happens when:  1. You want to replace my panels with a new type of Solar Power System. 2. Your panels are finished producing power, can they be recycled, or do I throw them in the dump? Ugh!

Current 

Panels are designed to produce electricity for well over 25 years. The problem is they degrade about .5% a year. More solar panels are expected to enter the waste stream in coming years. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shipments of new panels have increased substantially over the past 15 years. In 2019, enough PV modules were shipped to produce over 16 million peak kilowatts of electricity, a nearly 14-fold increase over the amount shipped a decade earlier. Many of them will be decommissioned well before the end of their usable lives

Reuse and Resale

There are methods in place to test the energy output of used panels so they can be resold or donated. That works well for higher-value modules, as there are international markets for secondhand modules, as well as one-off domestic projects. Of course, as with everything we create what actually happens depends on demand for this type of equipment.

So, reselling a used panel may appear the best option economically and environmentally, and that exchange does happen. At the same time, processors have said, certain market and tax policy forces are also working against reuse. For example, holding back the secondary market is U.S. tax policy. The federal government provides tax credits for homeowners installing new PV systems but, you can’t get that tax credit on secondhand modules.

I recommend you get in touch with your solar installation company of call me if you want to donate your panels. We can find the right place to donate or sell them. If you are replacing your system with a new State of the Art system, your installer will most likely take them off your hands as part of the deal.

Recycling

In some ways, solar panels present some of the same recycling challenges as old TVs. They carry a high cost to recycle properly, have limited commodity value and contain hazardous metals. At the same time, relatively few downstream processors recycle them, and markets are working against reuse.

About 95% of panels sold today are crystalline silicon, which have PV cells made with silicon semiconductors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Designed to withstand the elements for decades. Therefore, solar panel processors must charge fees to accept solar panels to offset their processing costs.

We Recycle Solar, a recycler of panels, spends up to $25 per panel in processing costs to yield between $2 and $4 in value from aluminum, copper, lead, glass, silver and silicon. OEMs have light weighted and use fewer valuable metals in newer generations of more-efficient products, which is great news from the manufacturing and consumer perspectives but not for recyclers.

Good news for consumers

In 2017, Washington state became the first state to pass a bill establishing an extended producer responsibility (EPR) program for solar panels. Starting in July 2023, the law will require manufacturers to fund collection and recycling of the panels.

The opportunity is massive, but to do it the right way is going to cost a lot of money. It will all come out good for you and me. I worked in the computer field from 1963 to 2005. Change is constant and usually in the best interest of the consumer.

Curt Van Hove, Owner
Suncatcher Energy
curt@suncatcherenergy.com
801-255-2888