PV Waste Management – Solar Panel Life Cycle

Solar Panel Life Cycle & PV Waste Management

We always hear about solar installations, selling back to the big power companies, even going totally off-grid. What we don’t hear about is the plan for PV waste management once panels reach the end of their lifespan. That’s mostly because in the US, solar is still a new trending topic and we’re just focused on getting folks to make the switch. Ditch oil already! We don’t want to make people think about what happens 30 years from now. I won’t even be here then so it’s not worth burning cycles over trying to fathom that issue until\if the bridge is in site.

The IRENA 2016 research paper makes the following statement about PV panel market and waste projection, “Since the mid-2000s, the US PV market has been growing rapidly, and cumulative installed capacity reached over 25 GW by the end of 2015 (IRENA, 2016b). With 7.2 GW new PV capacity installed in 2015 alone, the US presents today the fourth largest PV market in the world after China, Germany and Japan (IRENA 2016 and IEA-PVPS, 2015). Large-scale PV deployment in the US has only occurred in the past ten years. Thus cumulative end-of-life PV waste volumes in the US are expected to remain low at the end of 2016 at 6,500-24,000 t. In 2030 cumulative waste is projected to rise to between 170,000 and 1 million t and then possibly increase seven-fold to 7.5-10 million t in 2050.”

US End of Life PV Waste Volume (projected)

However, it is a good thing that someone is thinking about it and if I were a businessman – I’d be thinking about setting up the infrastructure now – today. This one of those long term investment things that’ll take time to turn a profit but when it does – boom! Funny, I hear people say “I wish I got into solar back when…”. Once we hit that threshold, people are going to be saying the same thing about recycling solar materials.

A 2016 research study breaks things down rather nicely on an international scale and you can see the US is still in its infancy regarding this process. Not necessarily because we’re behind, well OK – yes it is. I will not digress into a ran about our oil addiction – stay on target – stay on target.


Recycling solar panels will become a requirement assuming we make the transition to solar energy large scale in the US. Looking at the trend, this time around it might just maintain momentum regardless of how cheap oil is. I hope for my future-self sake, it does persist.

As with many things in the US, regulations can be a real pain to deal with. Politicians and mega-corps always find a way to make money off of the stuff that should be considered a necessity (like utilities). Right now there are little to no regulations about this end of life management process for photovoltaics, this means the public needs to remain watchful and savvy.




Huffington Post


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