As solar power continues to grow more and more photovoltaic (PV) panels are bing installed across the world. While the panels have lifespans of 30 or more years what to do with them after they’re lifespan is over has remained a question. Today (June 20) the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS) have issued a new report showing the value of materials recovered from end-of-life solar panels could exceed $15 billion by 2050.
"Global installed PV capacity reached 222 GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to further rise to 4,500 GW by 2050. With this tremendous capacity growth will come an increase in waste associated with the sector," said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. "This brings about new business opportunities to ‘close the loop’ for solar PV panels at the end of their lifetime. To seize these opportunities, however, preparations for the surge in end-of-life material should begin now."
The organizations issued End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels to show the as of yet untapped opportunity that recycling materials in solar panels offer. It's the latest in a series of new reports IRENA is issuing regarding solar power. The report estimates that waste from decommissioned solar panels could total 78 million tons by 2050. Recycling that material would be worth more than 15 billion by 2050. “This potential material influx could produce 2 billion new panels or be sold into global commodity markets, thus increasing the security of future PV supply or other raw material-dependent products,” IRENA stated.
"With the right policies and enabling frameworks in place, new industries that recycle and repurpose old solar PV panels will drive considerable economic value creation and will be an important element in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future," added Mr. Amin.
The report recommends expanding existing waste management to take on the decommissioned solar panels, establishment of regulations specific to solar panel waste and promoting innovation in managing such waste.
"Responsible life-cycle management is an imperative for all PV technologies—the socio-economic and environmental benefits which can potentially be unlocked through end-of-life processes and policies for this waste stream in the future should be seen as an opportunity today to start extending the photovoltaic value chain," said Stefan Nowak, Chairman of IEA-PVPS.Tweet