Growth of solar panels and their lifespans
Solar energy is converted into electricity with photovoltaic (PV) panels. These panels comprise of individual cells linked together, forming shapes and sizes based on the needs of the system. The panels are made of semiconductor materials like silicon.
Solar panels on average last 25–30 years thus, solar installations occurring today can be expected to remain productive until the middle of this century.
However, options for recycling and disposal need to be addressed as PV production continues to ramp up. While the larger recycling need may not come for another decade, infrastructure and policy should be put in place now in order to accommodate future needs.
Recycling vs. disposal of PV panels
Efficient recycling and material recovery are preferable to disposing of panels in landfills. Solar panels are easily recyclable as they are made of glass and metal.
PV glass has additional challenges due to the presence of other materials embedded within the PV glass. On the other hand, materials such as copper, silver, and silicon can be recovered efficiently. Recycling these PV panel components could offer some cost savings.
The International Energy Agency’s ‘Photovoltaics Power Systems Programme’ recently released research on the safety of disposing of PV panels in landfills. While safe options for disposing of PVs in landfills are useful, efficiently recycling and reusing the materials is more preferred.