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August 22, 2019

There's been some discussion lately about solar panels and what happens to them when they reach the end of their functional life. The average solar panel lifespan is about 30 years, so while solar panel recycling is not an immediate concern, the growth of solar capacity points to a future reckoning. 

Solar Benefits Tip the Balance

First it’s important to put the benefits and potential downsides of solar in context. Solar produces energy from sunlight, and reduces the carbon footprint by allowing power resources to shift away from carbon fuels. Solar power, along with other alternative energy resources, takes a significant bite out of the overall emissions. Individual solar systems benefit homeowners and businesses by reducing energy costs and distributing power production away from central power plants.

What solar panel components can be recycled?

Like many manufactured items, the components of solar panels can be broken down and recycled. About 80% of a solar panel module can be recycled using current recycling practices. These include:

  • Glass sheets

  • Metal framing

  • Plexiglas

  • Wires

The remaining 20% include the silicon wafers, the component most essential to solar production. While not readily recyclable, there are companies that address solar panel disposal problems. They melt the silicon wafers down and recapture the silicon and metals in the wafers. It's these heavy metals that are raising concerns among solar skeptics. 

Regulations Drive Solar Panel Recycling in Europe

The European Union has a much more robust and mature solar market and has begun to address the question of recycling. EU regulations that hold solar companies accountable for the waste their products produce (like the European WEEE Directive), have created a market demand for recycling services. European solar panel recycling companies collect and recycle panels, using robots to separate glass, metal, silicon and heavy metals that are essential to solar panel function. 

US Solar Companies Address Solar Recycling

Since the US solar market is a little further back on the implementation curve, recycling processes and services for solar waste is still in development stages. One company works with European recycling to transport discarded panels for recycling within the established program there. Present recycling facilities can handle up to 80% of glass metal and other components from old panels.

Bottom line: Solar Remains a Good Choice for the Environment

Presently, the environmental benefits of solar energy still outweigh the downside of an underdeveloped recycling market. As our solar market grows and matures, solar companies will develop ready answers to recycling the panel modules. After all, recycling is a part of the environmental movement that spawned the solar industry in the first place. We’ve got time to develop the business model for recycling and disposing of old solar panels.

Solar is the Energy Solution for Homeowners from Phoenix to Tucson, AZ

As experienced solar installers, the pros at Energy Solution Providers can help homeowners in the greater Punal, Pima and Maricopa County area to cut energy costs, and reduce their environmental impact. Solar installation for your home is a great way to improve your home’s energy efficiency and control costs. And with a solar grid tied system that connects to your power company, you can be assured of reliable power, even when the sun isn’t shining.