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[PV Magazine] Recycling solar panels: Making the numbers wor...
2022-02-15 17:39:45 2006 0

If the solar industry wants to claim it has green cred, then solar panels must be managed in a sustainable manner at the end of their usable lives.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Laboratory (NREL) published research that describes how to motivate the market first to reuse solar panels, and then recycle them by guiding national industrial policy to create a financially viable end-of-life solar panel industry.

The research was published in Nature Energy and offers a real number for policymakers to consider: a $10-18 per panel subsidy to pay for recycling at the end of the panel's life.

The researcher's projections showed that 40% of all solar panels could be reused and recycled using subsidies equal to $18 per panel for 12 years. At that price, a profitable and sustainable solar panel recycling industry could establish itself by 2032.

The NREL research said that specific tools could be effective at minimizing the landfilling of solar panels. The first simply would ban solar panels from landfills. The second option would subsidize solar panel recycling in order to lower the effective cost of recycling solar panels as the industry scales.

A qualitative description of each graph's overarching influence is below, starting from the top left and moving to the right.

The NREL research said that recycling targets could be reached earlier and at a lower overall cost when panel subsidies are increased. Based on $28 per module recycling costs and an $18 per module subsidy, (which lowers the cost to $10 per module), it would take 12 years to reach a 20% solar panel recycling rate and profitable recycling. That's six years earlier than the $10 per module subsidy, which lowers recycling costs to $18 per module and takes 18 years to achieve the same 20% rate.

In this model, subsidizing at a higher rate per module -  early in the program when there are fewer modules to recycle -  results in subsidizing for fewer years, thus lowering the program's overall costs.