Recycling Solar Panels- A Developing Industry

in Popular STEM3 months ago


Recycling Solar Panels- A Developing Industry


Solar energy is among the most-utilized forms of green energy. With 3% of the energy on Earth produced by solar panels, there is a huge potential for growth in the technology and a glaring responsibility exists in the proper disposal and recycling of old solar panels. Solar panels have a 25-year lifespan, and afterwards must be disposed of. Solar panels may leech heavy metals and other industrial compounds into the ground which makes their disposal a problem if they are to become a “green and clean” energy source. Recycling solar panels is a future industry with huge potential that needs to happen to make the panels a renewable and clean energy source.

Currently, solar panels are discarded in landfills and often destroyed prior to disposal. There is concern about pollution that may result from improperly disposed solar panels. Currently, the market for solar panel recycling is only $100 million, but with developments in manufacturing and recycling technology, this could grow to $2.7 billion in 2030. State incentives, especially in California have made solar panels attractive and pervasive, but now we need to deal with expired panels. Some 140,000 solar panels are added to the United States daily, and the industry is growing fast. We are set to experience a huge increase in solar-panel waste as they expire, and we need to build our recycling infrastructure.

It is clear that if we want to champion solar panels as a green-energy source, we must make their production and disposal clean as well. Solar panels contain industrial metals including silver, copper and polysilicon that could be recycled to make new panels from waste. The current problem is that the price of the materials salvaged during recycling may not be worth the cost of labor and transportation. We need to incentivize and potentially subsidize the industry until the recycling process becomes more mature. With so much waste coming, time is of the essence. One idea is to co-locate recycling facilities and subsidize recycling with state-funded incentives. The silicon and industrial metals do not fully fund the process, but many recycling programs send waste overseas and our supply-chain for solar panel production should be examined for efficiencies.

Solar panel technology has increased, and the panels have become cheaper and more adaptable. The incentive to recycle solar panels is currently not favorable for recycling and transporting the panels, but this is improving and is one step closer to widespread green-energy sources. The Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in the European Union requires that all solar panels produced must be collected and recycled by manufacturers. A similar legislation with government subsidies and further technological advances in recycling of panels will help with the incoming stream of waste to come.

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