When you weigh the pros and cons of installing residential or commercial solar panels, you may not think your panels will eventually need replacement.
Many of us don’t think about the process of solar panel disposal.
It’s been an obstacle to the clean energy classification and solar energy’s sustainability.
Although most solar panels are recyclable, they undergo a specialized dismantling process in recycling facilities to reclaim their valuable components.
Let’s check out how sustainable panel disposal methods are a work in progress.
Solar Panel Disposal Challenges
As already mentioned, solar panels must be dismantled for recycling and safe disposal.
Recycling operations use mechanical methods to remove aluminum frames and grind the remaining glass, silicone, and metals into a glass cullet mixture.
This glass cullet forms building materials and industrial applications.
But it turns out that a panel of this mixture is only worth a few dollars.
More advanced methods are developing to extract valuable, pure materials from retired panels.
These substances include glass, silicone, plastic, and metals, some of which are more valuable than glass cullet.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the “ideal recycling system” includes:
- Removing frames and junction boxes
- Separating glass and silicon wafer
- Purifying silicon cells and specialty metals
Sustainable Disposal Keeps Solar Panel Materials Out of Landfills
Whether breaking assemblies down to harvest components or refurbishing panels for re-use off-grid, every panel that stays out of landfills reduces the total accumulation of electronic waste.
Solar panel modules are e-waste that contains heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead.
These contaminants can leach out of broken panel fragments and into the soil.
Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute undertook an end-of-life study for US solar utilities and did not recommend disposing of panels in landfills.
The Current Status of Solar Panel Disposal
There are several sustainable solar equipment disposal initiatives in numerous states and countries.
Companies that specialize in solar panel recycling offer sustainable disposal options.
With solar panel life expectancy around 25 to 30 years, ongoing solar growth across the US and globally, and technological advances, it’s likely that sustainable recycling options will be available in the 2040s or early 2050s.
Decades before panel disposal is needed, a residential or commercial solar energy system can provide clean, sustainable electricity that reduces your carbon footprint and level of grid dependence.
If you’d like to learn more, contact us today!