For the third year in a row, solar PV installations accounted for the largest share of new electricity generation in the U.S., adding an additional 23.6 GW of capacity to reach over 121GW of installed capacity in the country (SEIA 2022).  As this number continues to grow, there is an increasing number of solar material that is starting to reach its end-of-life (EOL).  A deliberate and regulated plan to ensure that this material is repurposed and recycled properly is necessary to encourage a circular economy and guarantee that the sustainability strides of our industry are not erased through the destructive scraping of materials.

Fortunately, regulatory bodies are beginning to pay attention to this incoming wave of aging PV systems.  On March 18 of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released its action plan to enable responsible handling of EOL photovoltaic materials.  Through their Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), the DOE plans to support hardware research to reduce the cost of and promote module recycling, create a database of aging systems, reach out to stakeholders, and more.  Additionally, decommissioning policies and guidelines have already been growing at the state and local AHJ level.  Fifteen U.S. states have enforced statewide solar decommissioning policies enforcing everything from financial assurances (such as decommissioning bonds) to mandatory recycling.  Washington state has even proposed an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program to start in 2025 that would seek to ensure sustainable practices by making the manufacturer financially responsible for recycling any of their products that are deployed in the state.  If passed as written, this responsibility could fall on the solar developers.  NREL has published a great survey of current federal and state level decommissioning policies in the U.S., which can be found here.

Map of state solar decommissioning policies in the United States (NREL 2021)

 

There is no question that more regulations around the proper handling and disposal of end-of-life systems are going to be popping up around the U.S. to help tackle this issue.  As an industry, we must all take responsibility in ensuring that sustainable end-of-life management is being thought through in the beginning of a project, as well as following through at its end.  Decom Solar can help guide and educate asset owners, developers, manufacturers, and more through the options available.  Visit www.decomsolar.com for more information.

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.

There are plenty of options to consider when you are dealing with a solar decommissioning project and often companies do not have time to explore all available solutions.  At Decom Solar, we welcome the opportunity to assess your project and explore these options so that you can get the best value for your project and do what is right for future generations. We offer turnkey solar decommissioning and cover everything from sourcing the right partners through deconstruction, with a clear understanding of your business objectives.

LandfillLandfill

The worst option.  This option, while it may cost less, is destructive to our planet and the harmful substances in solar equipment will eventually leech into our water table.  If you are electing to go this route, Decom Solar is not the right fit for you, however we can provide alternative solutions that are more valuable for your business.

Recycle Recycling

Only in cases where equipment has no life left should recycling be considered.  This option is expensive and, in most cases, can be avoided.  If recycling is the only option for your equipment, we are partnered with certified solar recyclers throughout the country and we can source the most cost-effective solution for you.

RefurbishRefurbish

Depending on the age and useful life left with your solar modules, refurbishment is a great option to consider for your decommissioning project.  Often, solar modules still have value, and you can get paid for your used equipment.  We work with refurbishing partners who are focused on keeping solar materials out of landfills and provide cost-savings for your project.

Donation

If your solar equipment is in good condition, there are dozens of non-profits throughout the country who will happily take the modules as a charitable donation.  Benefits of going this route include receiving a charitable donation certificate for your material, having a positive impact on local communities, and creating a marketable story for your company and the non-profits you work with.

Allow Decom Solar to handle all of the legwork and clearly present all options to your company so that you can make an informed decision and receive the most value for your equipment.  By partnering with Decom Solar you can remain focused on your day to day while knowing that you are getting the best solution for your solar decommissioning project and our planet.  Visit www.decomsolar.com for more information.

A recently decommissioned 305 kW solar array is having a huge impact for the local community in Jackson, Mississippi.  Croda International partnered with Decom Solar to decommission a system located at their former headquarters in Edison, New Jersey. After determining that the modules could not be reutilized at Croda’s new Plainsboro facility, they worked with Decom Solar to find a non-profit partner who could benefit from the donation of the still useful equipment.

“For us (Decom Solar), Croda represents the exact type of client that we look for.  Their insistence on making sure that functioning solar materials were used to help those in need aligns with our mission, so it was a perfect fit for our organizations,” said Steve Burns, Co-Founder of Decom Solar.

Croda donated all modules, racking and inverters from their system to three organizations who are using the supplies to have a positive impact in Mississippi:

  • The Jackson Resource Center raises funds and awareness for the local homeless population and is helping to distribute the used solar modules to local non-profits.
  • The Mileston Cooperative Association is a large-scale vegetable-growing operations that serves the local community. The solar modules donated have been installed and are being used to power their hydroponics system.
  • Kinkead Housing Foundation supports and develops low-income multifamily housing. Kinead is currently installing these modules on top of homes for the less fortunate and having an impact offsetting what can be burdensome electricity costs.

“Often times it can be something as small as an electricity bill that can be overwhelming for individuals, so this donation is having a huge impact on the communities that we serve,” said Ms. White of the Kinead Housing Foundation.

Decom Solar specializes in the solar decommissioning for corporate and industrial system owners. They partner with non-profits and certified recyclers to ensure that any solar waste they touch is properly disposed or re-deployed.  Visit www.decomsolar.com for more information.