Solar Panel Recycling: Everything You Need To Know

Solar energy is becoming incredibly popular in the United States. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, SEIA, there are more than 2 million installations in the U.S. and projects an addition of 4 million by 2023. This rapid growth in the solar industry is due to the benefits solar energy provides.

Unlike traditional energy generation, solar panels provide clean and renewable energy and require little maintenance. Solar energy is inexpensive and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, helping you maintain a minimal carbon footprint.

But like everything that’s manufactured, solar panels don’t last forever. Most photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have a lifespan of 25 years, after which its energy production dips, and it’s time to replace or dispose of them. This means that more and more solar panels will have to be recycled in the coming years to avoid an environmental disaster. Decommissioned solar panels contain toxic materials such as lead that can leach into the soil, and if not properly recycled, it can result in significant pollution and health issues.

Luckily, solar recycling in the U.S. and the world has become a massive industry with a projected value of $15 billion in recoverable materials by the year 2050. As more people embrace solar power, more economic opportunities emerge in the solar panel recycling sector.

How To Recycle Solar Panels

There are two types of solar panels; silicon-based and thin-film PV panels. Silicon-based are the most common and are made of 99% plastic, silicon, aluminum, and glass, and the remaining 1% comprises metals, including cadmium, lead, gallium, and copper. Although these solar panels are primarily made of recyclable materials, the materials’ assembly complicates the recycling process.  

But this doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. The process requires advanced machinery to separate the materials and recycle them individually successfully. 95% of glass can be recycled while the entire aluminum frame is reused for remolding cell frames.

The remaining parts are heated at 500 degrees Celsius, so they can separate. The plastic evaporates due to the extreme heat leaving silicon cells. The evaporated plastic is not wasted; instead, it’s used as a heat source for more thermal processing. The silicon particles are etched, melted, and molded to be reused to make new silicon modules.

From this process, it’s evident that every single part of a solar panel can be recycled, so if you have any reservations about the environmental impact your solar panel can cause, worry no more.  

Solar Panel Recycling Policies In The U.S

Although there are no national policies for solar panel recycling in the U.S, many states have formulated their own regulations. States like New York, California, and Washington are paving the way for other states to implement recycling policies. Still, there’s a need for a harmonized methodology of recycling solar panel waste.

New York’s Solar Panel Collection Act empowers the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to partner with solar panel manufacturers to develop a program to collect, transport, recycle and dispose of decommissioned solar panels and keep them out of landfills. The manufacturers bear the cost of this program.

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Solar panels are an excellent financial investment. By going solar, you significantly reduce your energy bill, lower your carbon emissions, gain energy independence, and increase your home’s value. But there are many misconceptions about solar panels recycling.At Solar by CIR, we are committed to providing you with educational resources to help dispel any myths and misgivings about solar power and solar panel recycling so you can make an informed decision.

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