How to Dispose of Solar Panels

With the rise in the popularity of solar energy, many people are installing solar panels in their homes and businesses. But what happens when it is time to get rid of them? Solar panels contain toxic materials that can harm the environment if not disposed of properly. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies has been rapid, with no signs of slowing down. 

The energy sector is witnessing an upheaval, with a steady shift toward renewable energy sources. Nonetheless, not everything that appears to be long-term is that way after its existence cycle. At the very least, this is the most prevalent concern regarding photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Solar panels are a renewable energy source solely dependent on solar radiation and can supply electricity to our homes. But what happens to solar panels when they don’t work well? This blog post will discuss how to dispose of solar panels safely and environmentally.

The Lifetime of Solar Panels

Use of solar panel
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It is the first thing you think of when you think of solar panels. According to research, solar panel life expectancy has been estimated at 30 years before decommissioning.

A 20% decrease in power capacity is possible during the lifetime of photovoltaic panels. The maximum reduction in efficiency is 10% after the first ten to twelve years and 20% after 25 years. Most producers guarantee these percentages.

Research reveals that the efficiency drops by 6 to 8 percent after 25 years in practice. The life of solar panels may be considerably longer than stated on the label. High-quality PV cells may last up to 30 to 40 years and be functional even afterward, although their effectiveness will decrease significantly.

How to Dispose of Solar Panels?

PV panel waste is still considered general trash by regulatory authorities. PV panels are specifically designated as e-waste under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive at the EU level, making this the only exception. Several legal systems additionally govern the management of PV panel waste.

Technological advancements have led to recycling solar panels to keep up with the demand for more sustainable practices. You must meet the government’s legal requirements or standards to achieve this. Producers of photovoltaic panels often collaborate with governmental institutions to properly recycle solar waste in an eco-friendly way.

Solar Panel Waste

If people don’t recycle solar panels, there will be 60 million tons of waste in landfills by 2050. All PV cells contain hazardous materials, making this an unsustainable source of energy. It is a common belief that solar panels are not recyclable, but this is simply a myth.

The recycling process does take time to be implemented widely, and further research is needed to reach its full potential. Collaborating closely between recycling units and designers is essential for eco-designs considering recycling capability.

Solar Panel Recycling Processes

There are two types of solar panels: silicon-based and thin-film based. They require different recycling approaches, but both can be recycled using distinct industrial processes. Silicon-based panels are more common, though that does not mean that there would not be great value in the materials of thin-film cells.

Research teams have been creating new technologies for recycling solar panels, some of which boast a 96% success rate. Although this is an impressive feat, the goal is to keep improving these methods in the future.

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1. Silicon Based Solar Panel Recycling

The recycling process of silicon-based PV panels begins by taking the product apart to separate the aluminum and glass parts. Most glass can be recycled, while all exterior metal is melted down and cast into new cell frames. The leftover materials are heated to 500°C in a special unit that breaks down cell bonds.

The intense heat causes the plastic encapsulating the silicon cells to evaporate, readying the cells to be processed further. The technology backing this process ensures that not even the plastic is wasted–it’s reused as a heat source for additional thermal processing.

The green hardware is physically separated after the thermal treatment. 80% can be readily reused, while the rest is further refined. The etching process removes silicon particles called wafers using acid. The melting of broken wafers creates new silicon modules with an 85 percent recycling rate.

2. Thin-Film Based Solar Panel Recycling

In contrast, thin-film solar panels are more aggressively processed. They must first be shredded. Using a hammermill, people can verify that all particles are no larger than 4-5mm, the size at which the lamination that binds the interior materials breaks. The residual material consists of solid and liquid components compared to silicon-based PV panels. As the solid parts are rotated inside a tube, the fluid drops into a container while a rotating screw rotates the solid parts.

A precipitation and dewatering procedure ensures that liquids are pure. The end product is subjected to metal processing to separate the diverse semiconductor materials. On average, 95% of the semiconductor material is reused in the latter stage, depending on the technology utilized to make the panels.

Solid materials are often mixed with other, lighter substances called interlayer materials. However, these can be removed by using a vibrating surface. Then, the material goes through a rinsing process. Pure glass is left behind after this step- saving up to 90% of the original glass elements for easy re-manufacturing.

The Future Benefits of Solar Waste Management

With the increasing awareness that solar panels can be recycled, many are wondering what other benefits it brings to the economy. Recycling such large volumes of PV modules requires a reliable and sturdy infrastructure. However, once that is accomplished, several positive consequences and new opportunities will result from this change within the economy.

Recycling solar panels can create more green job opportunities and recover approximately £11 billion by 2050. We can produce 2 billion new panels without investing in raw materials. We could generate around 630 GW of energy from previously used material alone. As solar energy prices drop, many households and businesses invest in solar power systems. Consequently, economic opportunities for recycling Solar cells will present themselves even more.

The Bottom Line

Disposing of solar panels does not have to be a hassle. With the right recycling process in place, you can ensure that your old solar panel is recycled properly and does not end up in a landfill. Not only is this good for the environment, but it also creates new jobs and opportunities for businesses within the green economy.


How fast do solar panels degrade?

According to NREL research, solar panels have a median deterioration rate of 0.5% per year. However, the rate might be higher in hotter climates and rooftop systems. A degradation rate of 0.5% implies that solar panel output will drop at a pace of 0.5% each year over its lifetime.

How long can solar panels last?

Solar panels, sometimes called photovoltaic or PV panels, are designed to endure for more than 30 years. In reality, many solar panels installed as early as the 1980s still function effectively. Solar panels are not only extremely dependable; they’re also getting longer in duration every year.

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