What to do with old solar panels?

What to do with old solar panels?

The global growth of solar energy over the past decade has made the photovoltaic industry one of the main pillars of the ongoing energy transition. More and more people are deciding to install their own PV system. Although solar panels are devices with long “expiration dates” (25-30 years), sooner or later they will need to be rid of. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency projects that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life and that the world will be generating about 6 million metric tons of new solar waste annually.

Solar panels cannot be treated as ordinary waste and simply “thrown away”. This is because of their size (it is a waste of large dimensions) and the varying materials they are made of. The main contributor to the total weight of a typical crystalline silicon PV module is glass (75%), followed by polymer (10%), aluminium (8%), silicon (5%), copper (1%) and small amounts of silver, tin, lead, and other metals and components. Therefore, in accordance with the law, they have to be collected selectively and transferred to a specialized recycling facility.

Who is responsible for reprocessing?

Some PV panel manufacturers offer a guarantee of collection and disposable services when the products wear out. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that the cost of these activities falls on the owner of the installation – either when purchasing the panels or when taking them to a recycling facility.

Recycling - the future of photovoltaics

Although the recycling of panels is a very complex and complicated process, there are already technological solutions that allow the recovery of the vast majority of raw materials used for the production of modules. Some of them even reach an astonishing 96% recycling efficiency, but the aim is to raise the bar higher in the future. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), raw materials recovered through recycling processes could be worth more than $450 million in total by 2030. This is equivalent to the number of raw materials currently needed to produce about 60 million new panels.