Solar energy involves harnessing sunlight through the use of silicon cells. Unfortunately, these materials can contribute to solar energy waste. In the last few decades, many homeowners have adopted solar energy to combat climate change and reduce energy bills.
More and more homes continue to install PV modules. As you know, the best solar panels currently have a 25-30 year lifespan. After this, the panels stop being effective and require replacement. For this reason, it is essential to think about solar waste management. We are going to look at the various solar energy waste management methods.
Development in Solar Waste Management
If you installed solar panels in 2002, you could be thinking about replacing your modules. For you to do so, you may have in mind various disposal methods for the solar panels. In 2016, IRENA or International Renewable Energy projected solar panels waste of 250,000 metric tons. By 2050, this waste could reach 78 million metric tons as many people continue to adopt solar energy technology. There is a need to revolutionize how we handle solar waste to curb e-waste.
Solar Panels Waste
PVs are a considerable component of solar energy technology. These are the solar panels we see on the roof of buildings. They are large and bulky but convert the sun’s heat and light into electricity.
Over the past decade, solar panel production was massive due to the boom in the industry. These panels provide solar energy to the world and are accessible. They aid in the fight against global warming. However, they only have a lifespan of about 25 years. Their production started in the 2000s, which means that their disposal or recycling has now begun to be a growing concern as these solar panels are large and heavy.
Research suggests that in 2050, there will be about 78 million metric tons of photovoltaic panels requiring disposal as they will have come to the end of their life. Considering that 2050 is only 30 years from now, solar waste managementis a valid concern that we should address. Some of the proposed ways of dealing with this problem include:
Solar Panel Recycling
Currently, most e-waste is going through a recycling process. Solar energy is no different. It can be the best course of action when solar panels fail to perform effectively. The availability of PV recycling technology brings the much-needed relief in this field.
The process entails eliminating toxic materials from these panels and reusing them. Research is still ongoing to allow the recycling of all types of solar panels.
Currently, the idea of recycling solar panels is still new. However, as innovation continues, these is hope that 96% of the materials used is recyclable into new solar panels. Due to an influx of such materials, companies can build over 2 billion solar panels.
Introduction of recycling in solar panels makes them greener. Solar energy is a source of clean energy produced through recycled materials after whose lifecycle has ended.
Disposing Solar Panels
Solar panels fall under the general waste category apart from the EU, where it falls under e-waste. The law requires solar panel manufacturers to offer specific legal requirements and recycling standards. This ensures solar panels do not become a burden on the environment. As a result, there has been collaboration leading to better results.
Recycling is the ideal form of dealing with solar panels waste. However, the process requires much more time. Thus, allowing for further research into the full potential before the idea is widely implemented. As research development into solar energy continues, we hope to see many more recycling units allowing for mindful eco-friendly solar panel technology.
In this solar waste management method, solar panels are dismantled, removing the surrounding frame, embedded cables, and junction boxes. After this, the solar panels, wires, and junction boxes are crushed and bonded, and individual toxicity inspected, allowing for total disposal.
The solar panel frame provides stability to the panels. It also protects the module by avoiding water infiltration. After the separation of the structure from the module, it is smelted. Separating solar modules makes it easy to dispose of the components safely.
Heat and Chemicals
You can apply heat to polycrystalline solar panels to separate the silicon, which allows for recycling. Through this method, you can recover wafers whose efficiency is said to equal the original product. Apart from using heat, organic solvents are also ideal for removing the EVA layer. This process leads to reclaiming Si panels, which are incredibly efficient. The researchers noted the dissolution of the EVA by using various solvents. However, the process leads to the development of hazardous by-products.
Solar Panels Sustainability and Innovation
Waste management, in general, has come a long way with benefits from government incentivization. As the solar panels installed in the early 2000s reach the end of their lives, the same will have to apply. Incentivizing solar waste may be more costly than the actual production value. However, failure to do so might be counterproductive, causing more harm to the environment.
For this reason, governments and private sectors can incentivize this process while prioritizing solar waste management. Plans such as the implementation of a solar waste disposal program can happen alongside its installation. This way, home and industrial owners are aware beforehand what to do with the installed solar panels at the end of their life cycle.
Unfortunately, there are potential toxins in solar panels whose careful disposal is required. When you send such waste to a landfill, you end up increasing the amount of e-waste. This is not an ideal situation.
There are steps that innovation in this sector and government regulation can take to help mitigate such situations. The first would be to ensure the solar panel cost covers its management at the end of life. Users can also store the damaged solar panels to prevent them from ending up in landfills. The other and most important point is funding research and development to deal with solar panels after their use.
It is impossible to run away from solar waste management. There is hope that recycling will prove to be the best way to manage this situation. However, as innovation and development continue, we hope to see new and better solar energy waste management.
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