Recycling & End-of-Life Considerations for Photovoltaics
The falling cost of solar has made renewable energy accessible to more people than ever before and has resulted in an exponential increase in solar adoption. With more than 400 gigawatts (GWdc) of photovoltaic (PV) modules installed globally (including 62 GWdc in the U.S. through 2018), end-of-life management is important for all PV technologies to ensure clean energy solutions are a sustainable component of the energy economy for future generations.
Like many other durable products and construction materials, solar equipment can last for decades, particularly with proper maintenance. In some cases, PV modules can be reused or refurbished to have a ‘second life’ of generating electricity. The other components of solar systems can also be handled responsibly. Inverters can be recycled as e-Waste and racking equipment can be re-utilized with newer technology or recycled like other metals.
Photovoltaic panels are designed to last more than 25 years, and many manufacturers back their products with performance guarantees backed by warranties. The lifespan of a solar photovoltaic panel is approximately 20-30 years, while the lifetime of an inverter can be upwards of 10 years. Therefore, many solar products have not yet reached end-of-life, and in fact, panels installed in the early 1980s are still performing at effective levels.
Some SEIA members operate take-back and recycling programs or engage with suitable waste handlers, disposers or resellers of their products. These recyclers may collect, transport, process and resell valuable materials from PV modules, inverters and other equipment. Some companies refurbish and resell PV equipment for secondary market usage such as off-grid or exported outside of the US.
Current Recycling Regulations
End-of-life disposal of solar products in the US is governed by the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and state policies that govern waste disposal or other disposition. SEIA works collaboratively with regulators to reasonably develop implementable regulations and manageable processes for compliance.
SEIA's PV Recycling Working Group has developed a national PV recycling program. This program will include specific benefits for members who utilize the services of SEIA Preferred Recycling Partners. Click here to find out more.