Battery storage technology is a necessary and crucial enabler of the renewable energy transition. They have a key role to play not only in decarbonizing transport, but also in acting as the primary storage solution for renewable microgrids, unstable utilities, and more.  In the United States, battery energy storage system (BESS) capacity more than tripled in 2021 as over 100 utility scale projects were brought online (EIA) and Wood Mackenzie estimates that we are on track to be a 27GW annual storage market by 2031.  As more of these battery systems are installed year after year, the need for sustainable recycling, repurposing, and decommissioning solutions for this technology will become vital.

To date, the eV industry has been the catalyst for accelerating both battery technology and recycling the impending waste.  Over the last few years, new companies are innovating ways to recycle battery components and re-introduce the much-needed base elements back into the supply chain.  Additionally, there are companies who are creatively repurposing used eV batteries with substantial life remaining into BESS solutions that continue to provide storage capacity for years before they are recycled at their true end-of-life.

The same is true for larger scale BESS projects.  Commercial and utility scale storage solutions have matured within the last few years, and we are already seeing early adopters have a need for decommissioning and removal.  As with the eV industry, there are multiple solutions for aging or end-of-life battery energy storage systems.  Depending on the battery chemistry, age, and condition, these may be repurposed or recycled just as with solar PV modules.  Furthermore, due to the hazardous nature of these batteries, proper care is necessary when disassembling and transporting the material safely and per federal/state regulations.  Decom Solar can help evaluate your specific BESS decommissioning needs and provide the optimal turnkey solution that fits your project.  Reach out for more information, or visit www.decomsolar.com

As detailed in our earlier blog, The Re-Roof Conundrum, companies who are exploring solar are often faced with a decision to install solar on a rooftop that has ten years or less of roof life left. Developers recommend that if your roof has ten plus years of roof life left, going solar is a good financial investment, but are they considering the challenges that arise with a solar decommissioning and reinstallation project?

It is important that future building and tenant needs are understood prior to designing a solar array. While this can be difficult to predict, any future changes to a solar array layout can be complicated. Often, the equipment that will be used for your solar installation may not be able to be redesigned or reinstalled due to code requirements or lack of support from equipment vendors. We run into these issues regularly when working with racking manufacturers.

Racking manufacturers are constantly required to update their equipment to comply with new code requirements and technology advancements. As a result, they will do away with older equipment manufacturing lines or engineering functions to support their current offerings.  In cases where an older array needs to be removed and reinstalled this can be problematic. If you are unable to obtain new ballast layouts or spare parts for your project, you may be in a position where your functioning warrantied equipment cannot be reinstalled. The problem will be compounded if the local code enforcement office requires updated designs to comply with updated ASCE wind and structural requirements.

If you know that a re-roof or array adjustments will be needed before your solar array reaches its true end-of-life, there are a few key steps you should take with your solar developer:

  • Request that your developer provide stamped racking and electrical plans to support the future project.
  • Discuss the future changes or re-roof needs with the local permitting office at the time of the original installation and get an approval in writing that your system will be grandfathered into the current code requirements.
  • Purchase spare racking equipment that is needed at the time of your initial solar project so that you have the equipment needed on hand. You can request that this spare equipment be packaged separately so that it is palletized and easily storable on-site.

If your company is looking at a rooftop solar project or has an operating system that will need to be decommissioned and reinstalled Decom Solar can help get ahead of these challenges so that you are not caught in a lurch. We will work with you and your developer to determine the best course of action to ensure your future building and tenant needs are addressed and alleviated.

Decom Solar specializes in solar decommissioning and reinstallation solutions for asset owners and developers. Visit www.decomsolar.com for more information.

The solar industry has experienced record growth every year for a decade and, in the process, has proven itself to be a clean and reliable energy source for our planet.  The largest corporations in the world continue to set aggressive sustainability targets and reduce their carbon footprint.  On Earth Day and every day, we all must remain steadfast in our mission to reverse the climate crisis and meet new challenges with scientific support, technological advancement, and industry alignment.

With the solar industry’s rapid growth, a new obstacle has emerged: the waste stream we are creating. Over 910 GW of solar have been installed globally, with 121.4 GW in the United States alone.  The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) calculates that there will be 78 million tonnes of waste by 2050 and that, by 2035, discarded modules will outweigh newly sold modules by 2.56 times (Source: The Dark Side of Solar Power).

Many early solar adopters anticipated their equipment would have a useful life of 25-30 years, but several factors are accelerating solar decommissioning. Rapid technological advancements within our industry are driving solar asset owners to explore options for increased energy production and safer operations.  These owners may upgrade their equipment to higher efficiency modules and more reliable inverters while maintaining their existing interconnection agreements. Since this can supercharge project timelines and economics, Decom Solar is seeing many companies update system equipment within the first 8-12 years of operation.  With technology becoming more efficient and safe every year, the amount of material that will need to be removed will increase exponentially, resulting in faster than anticipated waste production.

On the surface, replacing older technology to increase solar production is positive; the more clean energy produced, the less reliance we have on fossil fuels.  While this is true, it presents unique technological and ethical barriers.  Older modules that are removed from operation, but not truly at their end-of-life, should be redeployed to maximize the 30 years of clean energy they were built to produce, but older modules are likely not up to current UL requirements and therefore cannot be installed with available solar racking.  This limits module redeployment options to underdeveloped countries, off-grid installations, or, ground mount applications only.   Many non-profits are using the solar waste stream to do the incredible; our NPO partners provide electricity to communities without power, provide generation during catastrophic events, or power clean water pumps for those without access. However, the solar industry at large must ensure that solar material is not temporarily redeployed only to be dumped in landfills or oceans years from now.

These are not new problems. All emerging industries (including the computer and auto industries) faced similar waste disposal challenges and were able to drive advancements and revenue streams from their waste. Our industry differentiates itself from others in our mission to stop climate crisis and mitigate our reliance on fossil fuels. As environmental stewards, we all must push manufacturers, developers, corporations, installers, and industry trade groups to focus on reduction, reuse, and recycling of our waste stream.  We must challenge our industry to be flexible, creative, and unwavering in our mission, as we always have, to save our planet for future generations.

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.

Since solar installations began there have been conflicting opinions on how corporate clients should approach the useful roof life for their building. Commercial roofs are typically warrantied for 20 years, and solar arrays are meant to remain in place for 25+ years.  This creates a difficult decision for companies who are looking at installing solar. Do you re-roof prior to installation to keep warranty periods closely aligned or do you move ahead with the solar installation and deal with future roof issues as they arise?  It is generally recommended by solar developers that if your roof has 10+ years of usable life left it is most cost effective to move ahead with a solar installation, and they are not wrong, but did you budget for a decommission and re-installation in year ten of your solar array’s life? Typically, no.

Decom Solar has worked with several clients who have faced this exact scenario and it is expected that this will continue to be a problem to solve in the industry.  There are several factors to consider when the time for a re-roof arrives.

Communicating with permitting agencies is of top priority when assessing a re-roof and reinstallation of solar equipment. Often, the local authorities may require you to bring your existing solar array up to current code, which can result in significant costs for engineering, equipment, and installation.

Coordination with your roofing partner is the next key step in keeping re-installation costs down.  Different roof applications require different installation methods and understanding how the construction of the new roof is being performed can bring creative re-installation solutions to the forefront, mitigating significant labor costs.

Local incentive programs can also impact company’s decisions on a best path forward.  If incentive structures are still very strong, it is worth considering installing a new solar array all together, which may drive significant financial returns for your business.

No matter the scenario, it is highly recommended that companies get ahead of these challenges so they can understand the associated costs and budget accordingly.  Avoiding a scenario where your roof is failing, and you need to scramble to solve the problem, is of the utmost importance.

Decom Solar can help system owners work through the challenges of decommissioning and recommissioning a solar installation.  We pride ourselves on understanding all aspects of solar installations and we have successfully worked with developers, permitting agencies, and roofing partners to develop cost-effective solutions for our clients.

Whether you are just starting to look at solar or already have solar installed, Decom Solar can help plan for your future re-roofing needs.  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.