A new solar analysis revealed that the value of recyclable materials from dead solar panels could grow from $170 million to $2.7 billion by 2030.
The costs to transport and recycle dead panels currently outweighs the value, according to an analysis from Rystad Energy. As a result, most panels are shredded or thrown into a landfill.
The $2.53 billion value increase over the next eight years would come as a result of a growing demand for solar power, and a growing need for materials to make new panels.
Recycling panels is becoming more advanced thanks to technology, so more value can be pulled from the dead panels.
For example, Arizona State University researchers have been working on a recycling process that uses chemicals to recover the high-value materials in solar panels.
Most solar manufacturers say their panels will last 20 to 25 years, but events such as hurricanes or other natural disasters could cut the lifespan shorter.
The U.S. is facing an increasing urgency to figure out a recycling plan because solar started to become widely deployed in the early 2000s. In other words, time is running out.
Solar panels are mostly made of glass, but the most valuable components of the panel include silver, silicon, copper, and aluminum, experts say.
E.U. law requires producers to properly recycle their panels, but the U.S. has no such laws.
In 2020, Recycle PV Solar estimated that only around 10 percent of solar panels were being recycled.
The Rystad analysis is forecasting that recovered materials from retired panels could make up 6% of solar photovoltaic investments by 2040, compared to only 0.08% today.
Analysts believe that recycling could be a “supply relief” as panels reach the end-of-life stage.
“Rising energy costs, improved recycling technology, and government regulations may pave the way for a market where more defunct solar panels are sent to recycling rather than the nearest landfill,” Rystad Energy analyst Kristin Stuge said in a press release.
“Recycling PV panels can help operators save costs, overcome supply chain woes and increase the likelihood of countries meeting their solar capacity goals.”
According to The Verge, recycling also would help diversify what currently is a controversial network of supply chains.
The controversy includes documented human rights abuses and forced labor reports in some countries, as well as the environmental toll of mining for certain materials.
Solar power is growing in popularity as a more cost-effective, environmentally conscious choice in the face of climate change.
Experts believe an efficient, cost-effective recycling plan is in the future for solar, which will help the entire process become more affordable and streamlined for all.
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