Solar repowering is a hot topic within the solar industry driven largely by local incentive structures, rapid technology advancements and decreased equipment costs.  Increasing capacity on a site can bolster financial returns, alleviate steep operations and maintenance costs, and increase system longevity, but comprehensive due diligence should be done to confirm that it is the right time and application for your assets.

Repowering is common practice in the wind industry, and solar repowering has been taking place in Europe for several years now.  Delving into more established markets uncovers lessons to learn from and can lead to increased financial results, which is encouraging for the repowering market in the United States.

With an influx of tax equity coming into the renewable energy space, system owners are purchasing older assets and actively exploring the idea of repowering. In states where local incentives are maturing, such as Massachusetts SREC-1 which launched in January 2010, the notion of increasing capacity to maximize returns is very attractive, but there are a lot of factors to investigate.

Determining which components to replace is essential in your repowering research.  Inverters are often the first piece of equipment looked at for replacement because central inverter parts can be difficult to source and the exposure to a central inverter failure carries large production risks.  Inverter manufacturers see the need to support repowering efforts and the expectation is that viable solutions will be available in the market soon. Upgrading to higher efficiency modules carries its own unique challenges.  Often, older racking systems do not have the UL certifications for new equipment and as wind and snow load requirements have evolved, the need to replace racking components to accommodate new modules must be considered.

It is generally recommended that owners maintain their existing interconnection and zoning approvals to avoid utility upgrades or long review times, but each utility and AHJ views changes to an existing system differently.  Getting ahead of the authorities is key in determining your repowering feasibility and returns.

While repowering may seem daunting, Decom Solar will work with developers and system owners to determine the best solution for your asset.  We provide turnkey quotes for the labor, disposal, repurposing, and shipping of all replaced equipment.  We work with equipment manufacturers to maximize the amount reusable material and provide engineering insight to determine cost-effective solutions for your repowering efforts.  If you are considering a repowering project, Decom Solar can find the optimal solution to maximize long term returns.

According to the International Energy Agency, over 70,000 solar panels are being installed every hour around the world.  This rapid deployment is expected to grow year over year and, as it does, so will the volume of end-of-life modules.   While a major part of our mission at Decom Solar is repurposing modules that are still in working order, eventually these modules will need to be properly disposed of.  It is estimated that by 2050 there could be almost 100 million metric tons of decommissioned solar panels amassed around the globe and responsible recycling is the solution to make sure these are kept out of landfills.

Solar photovoltaic panels are arranged like a sandwich, with about 90% of them using silicon in the center as the semiconductor material.  Layered on top of the silicon are thin strips of conductive metal that collect the cells’ moving electrons and usher them into the panel’s copper wiring.  The cells are protected with an EVA plastic and a thicker glass on top and usually a PET plastic as the backsheet protection.  All layers are then encased in an aluminum frame, which is what physically connects and interfaces with solar racking systems.

Components of PV Module - NREL
Components of PV Module – NREL

With this material makeup, over 80% of a module’s weight consists of glass and aluminum, which are common and easily recyclable; however, the process of deconstructing the panels is complicated and intensive.  Due to this, recycling in the United States is expensive and often leads to owners either landfilling the equipment themselves or putting the onerous on fragile communities through donations without planning for the proper end-of-life solution.

The good news is that awareness on this urgent need is growing and leading to state-of-the-art recycling technologies, appropriate government regulations, and economic incentives to ensure that measures are in place to create a circular, clean solar lifecycle.  Decom Solar pledges to help lead this effort and in partnering with us, system owners can rest assured that this end-of-life issue is being addressed.  Visit www.decomsolar.com for more information.