Monday 25 July 2022

Discarded solar panels: How to deal with them?

Solar Panels are an interesting topic on TechItOut: WION.

Discarded solar panels: How to deal with them, indeed?

Tech It Out

WION on Youtube shows that solar energy is helping mitigate the adverse effects of climate change; it is a rapidly growing market. But are we ready to tackle solar panel waste? We tell you all about that in this video.

A house theoretically could run on solar power alone. With a modern so-called solar energy system, including power storage, you can definitely run a whole house completely on solar power. Today's high-efficiency solar panels and solar batteries make it cheaper than ever before to power an entire home exclusively using specific solar energy.

A solar cell panel, solar electric panel, photo-voltaic (PV) module or solar panel is an assembly of photo-voltaic cells mounted in a framework for installation. Solar panels use sunlight as a source of energy to generate direct current electricity. A collection of PV modules is called a PV panel, and a system of PV panels is called an array. Arrays of a so-called photovoltaic system supply solar electricity to electrical equipment.

Waste and recycling is important with solar panels. It seems that it is much cheaper to throw out panels than to recycle them.

Leftover PV panels can contaminate soil, as it happened in 2013 when US-based Solyndra solar farm bankrupted leaving broken panels on site. IRENA 2016 study estimated the amount of PV waste at 78 million tons by 2050. Most parts of a solar module can be recycled including up to 95% of certain semiconductor materials or the glass as well as large amounts of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Some private companies and non-profit organizations are currently engaged in take-back and recycling operations for end-of-life modules. EU law requires manufacturers to ensure their solar panels are recycled properly. Similar legislation is underway in Japan, India, and Australia.

A 2021 study by Harvard Business Review certainly indicates that by 2035 the discarded panels will outweigh new units by a factor of 2.56 and cost of recycling a single PV panel by then will reach $20-30, which would increase the LCOE of PV by a factor 4. Analyzing the USA market, where no EU-like legislation exists as of 2021, HBR noted that with the cost of sending it to a landfill being just $1-2 there's a significant financial incentive to either discard the decommissioned panels or send them to for low-tech disassembly in low-income countries with much of the toxic elements ending up released to the outside environment.

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