As the solar energy boom continues to sweep the US, the issue of environmental waste once solar products have reached their end of life is becoming a more pressing question. It’s becoming a bigger issue now that there are well over 100 million solar panels installed across the country and they’re being installed at an ever-increasing pace.
In an effort to close the sustainability loop between renewable energy and environmental responsibility, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced that it is working with major players SunPower, First Solar, and Trina Solar to create a national solar photovoltaic (PV) recycling program to collect and process PV panels at their end of life and other solar products.
Still, since solar panels are constructed of mostly glass and metal and can operate at full capacity for 20 to 40 years, the majority of PV panels and other solar power products that have been installed have yet to reach the end of life stage.
The new solar recycling program will help participating solar providers and manufacturers invest in research to find second life uses for the materials in solar panels, which could include being recycled into more solar panels. As solar technology advances and recycling networks grow and become more efficient, the reuse of mined elements like aluminum, silicon and cadmium used in solar panels will also lessen the solar industry’s environmental impact.
Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president said, “By establishing a national network of collection points, recycling facilities and an easy-to-use consumer web portal, this proactive program will help drive down the cost of recycling for all parties involved. This means the environment wins and so do our solar consumers and companies.”
“With more than 227 gigawatts of solar modules installed worldwide, recycling is important for all PV technologies and the sustainability of the industry as a whole. By making affordable PV recycling solutions more accessible to consumers, SEIA’s recycling program will help to ensure that today’s clean energy solutions do not pose a future waste burden,” added Alex Heard, senior vice president, Global Technical Services at First Solar.
Proactive efforts toward industry sustainability by solar energy providers is not a new concept. Some solar providers and manufacturers have already planned for a sustainable solar future by creating programs and technology to recycle materials in their solar panels. For example, SunPower has been dedicated to the development of PV panels that can be entirely recycled as future solar products or repurposed for use in other industries. In 2015, SunPower’s E-Series and X-Series solar panels were named Product of the Year by sustainability publication Environmental Leader. Both it and Trina Solar also received high grades from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s (SCTC) Annual Solar Scorecard as industry leaders for developing and manufacturing environmentally friendly PV solar panels.
SEIA’s program is not only evidence of huge strides toward solar industry sustainability, but could provide the potential for an economically significant ancillary industry. According to a report published by the International Renewable Agency (IRENA) called End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, the continued growth of solar power industry, will create the demand for an efficient and sustainable solar panel recycling market that could generate $15 billion by 2050.Tweet