Solar Power Could Get a Facelift with Dead Solar Panels


Recyclers may expect to be able to churn out billions of dollars worth of materials from discarded solar panels, according to a new analysis published recently. The move could eliminate the question of what to do with solar panels at the end of their useful life. It could ease bottlenecks in the supply chain for solar panels. Plus, it will make solar panels more sustainable in the long run.

In this context, Rystad Energy shares an estimate that recyclable materials from PV panels at the end of their lifespan will be worth over US$2.7 billion (AU$4 billion) in 2030. The value is estimated to approach US$80 billion (AU$118 billion) by 2050.

At the moment, the majority of dead solar panels in the US are destroyed or thrown into landfills. The economics haven’t been very favourable in the context of recycling. Recyclers have found it difficult to justify the value of salvaged panels when compared to the expense of transporting and recycling them. However, from the recent analysis by the research company Rystad Energy, the thought towards recycling may just turn favourable.

Solar energy makes up over 3% of the global electricity mix. However, the world’s energy systems are attempting to correct this scenario and bring in more renewable energy online.

The Paris climate agreement seeks nations to cooperate towards stopping greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels over the next few decades. Solar power can help to achieve that goal by supplying around 40% of the world’s energy. Moreover, globally, solar power is considered more cost-effective than coal or gas as a source of electricity.

Solar panels need more materials to construct, which are currently mined and processed in very few nations. Thus, the solar industry’s supply chain is quite vulnerable to errors and fraud.

In the future, more components used to create new solar panels are probably going to be recycled solar panels. Recycling is expected to contribute to the diversification of those supply chains. Plus, it might lessen the damage mining does to the environment, the welfare of neighbouring communities, and the health of its workers. Furthermore, new studies into salvaging the most valuable materials inside photovoltaic panels suggest that recycling will become more sophisticated.

Currently, the first significant wave of discarded solar panels is happening because solar first gained traction in the 2000s and has a lifespan of about 25 years. Ultimately, the trash (if handled properly) has the potential to turn into a treasure trove.