Millions of Solar Panels Aging Out. Recycling’s a Problem Big as Profits.

The prospect of a future glut of expired panels is prompting efforts by a handful of solar recyclers to address a mismatch between the current buildup of renewable energy capacity by utilities, cities, and private companies—millions of panels are installed globally every year—and a shortage of facilities that can handle this material safely when it reaches the end of its useful life, in about 25 to 30 years…

The area covered by solar panels that were installed in the US as of 2021 and are due to retire by 2030 would cover about 3,000 American football fields, according to an NREL estimate. “It’s a good bit of waste,” said Taylor Curtis, a legal and regulatory analyst at the lab. But the industry’s recycling rate, at less than 10 percent, lags far behind the upbeat forecasts for the industry’s growth…

A startup called SolarCycle estimates that recycling each panel avoids the emissions of 97 pounds of CO2; the figure rises to more than 1.5 tons of CO2 if a panel is reused. Under a proposed US Securities and Exchange Commission rule, publicly held companies will be required to disclose climate-related risks that are likely to have a material impact on their business, including their greenhouse gas emissions…

SolarCycle is one of only five companies in the US…capable of providing recycling services. The industry remains in its infancy and is still figuring out how to make money from recovering and then selling panel components, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. “Elements of this recycling process can be found in the United States, but it is not yet happening on a large scale…“

By current standards, the tech isn’t overly difficult. Over time, with competition expected to grow trying to meet existing demand, I expect there will only be improvements in both the recycling processes and marketing those portions sold on for use separate from reintroduction to their original purposes…generating electricity from sunlight.

Yes, I am concerned over investment in this recycling need getting off the ground early and efficiently enough to keep up with what will be dynamically expanding for years to come.

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