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.
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.