Dead Solar Panels Are The Hottest New Recyclables

When it comes to renewable energy, there are many great sources. Whether it’s solar, wind, or something else, though, we need a lot of it. Factories around the globe are rising to the challenge to provide what we need.

We can build plenty of new solar panels, of course, but we need to think about what happens when they reach end of life. As it turns out, with so much solar now out in the field, a major new recycling industry may be just around the corner.

Crunch ‘Em Up

Wind turbines and solar panels are being installed en-masse to supply renewable energy to the grid. Neither last forever, and planning for their end-of-life is key to avoiding valuable materials ending up in landfill. Credit: Adobe Stock

Solar panels are great at harvesting energy from the sun, but they don’t last forever. They can get damaged or smashed, or simply age out. Most panels are rated for a service life of 25 years. The solar boom really took off in the early 2000s, and has gathered steam ever since. That means that we’ll soon face an avalanche of solar panels that are ready for retirement.

Like so much modern tech, solar panels wrap up a bunch of expensive and exotic materials into one fancy product. The photovoltaic cells that produce power from the sun are made using materials like silver, copper, and aluminium, all of which are valuable. The cells also use plenty of polysilicon, which is expensive to produce. Other trace materials can include tin and lead used in solder connections, though hazardous waste regulations have reduced this in recent years.

The problem is that all these fancy materials can be difficult to separate out. Copper wiring can be cut off the back of panels relatively easily, and aluminum frames stripped off. However, all the other materials require more processing.

Currently, the bulk of solar panels that are recycled are basically shredded and treated as relatively impure crushed glass, referred to as glass cullet in the industry. Combined with the copper wiring and aluminium frame, recyclers can expect to get around $3 a panel for their efforts. That doesn’t stack up well against the cost of the process, which can be anywhere from $12 to $25 a panel when transport and processing costs are stacked up.

These high costs mean that many solar panels are simply sent to landfill instead. At the present time, only around 10% of solar panels are recycled in the US.

New Processes are the Key

The trick to recovering more from solar cells is to take more care in the recycling process. One method is known as the FRELP process, for “Full Recovery End of Life Photovoltaic” process. It uses a hot knife to carefully separate out the silicon cells from the glass and plastic of the panel, which lets each component be processed separately. Chemical processes can then be used to separate out high-value silver and copper, rather than leaving these materials churned up with the glass. The hope is that the silicon recovered could be of good enough purity to be reused in solar panel production without requiring expensive repurification steps.

Waste management company Veolia has also been working in this area, running a commercial-scale plant in France since 2018, and a newer test project in Germany this year. Similar to most processes, the wiring, cable panel, and aluminium frame are all removed, in this case by robots. Then, the PV panel itself is chopped into small tablets, ground up, and the glass separated from the metal content with an eddy-current separator. This allows for efficient recovery of the raw materials, rather than simply shredding the whole panel and mixing all the precious metals and silicon up with the glass. Veolia hopes to continue developing its process to the point where it can reliably recover high-purity silver and silicon from the panels, to be reused in the production of new panels. The company hopes to step up its operations to the point where it can recycle all solar panels that are being decommissioned in France.

An Industry Set To Boom

Rystad Energy estimates that the solar panel recycling market will boom as installed panels start aging out in coming years. Source: Rystad Energy

The global solar panel waste stream is set to boom. At the end of 2016, there were around 250,000 tons of waste panels, but that’s expected to balloon to over five million tons by 2050. As more solar capacity is installed, it locks in a larger waste stream for the future.

This giant waste stream is quickly becoming a resource ready to be tapped. Rather than running a silver or aluminium mine, companies will compete to get their share of a waste stream full of precious metals. The trick is in perfecting the techniques to extract and purify that metal in a clean and cost-effective way. Research firm Rystad expects the solar recycling industry to be worth $2.7 billion by 2030, and $80 billion by 2050, up from a comparatively-miniscule $170 million today.

Mastering the recycling of solar panels and wind turbines will be key to ensuring we have the renewable power we need into the future. Thus, if you’ve got some creative ideas on how to recover materials from solar panels, there’s plenty of scope to make money at it in the coming years!

Banner photo: “Installing solar panels” by Oregon DOT.

(Yeah, we know, but “installation is in the reverse order of removal.”)

99 thoughts on “Dead Solar Panels Are The Hottest New Recyclables

    1. Better to design to last over recycle in pretty much all situations – recycling takes heaps of energy, has transit costs and is fiscally rarely worth it with such common elements. All those costs can be avoided if the panels are designed to endure, and then when they cease being primary quality panels get reused instead.

      As even the very first generations of commercial solar panels that haven’t been physically damaged still output some power its trivial to reuse ’em in less prime spots and far better than landfill. More so as the ones from this millennium are solidly trending to degrade far far less – the estimated life span to degrade as far as it will or reach 50% new output I read somewhere on one particular study was something over 100 years on the conservite side of that estimate! Of course such predictions are still potentially incorrect, and breakages will happen, but the 20 odd years old panel is often still over 80% of new potential and so well worth deploying to the less optimal locations – clad your highrises, the east and west roof faces for that morning/evening goodness etc.

      1. Why not both? If DFR only adds a bit of cost or reduces output by a small margin it’s worth doing. The reason why it isn’t in many cases (I’m most familiar with EV packs) is because, for the most part, the manufacturer doesn’t see any of the benefits of recycling.

        While I don’t have direct experience with solar panels, I can say that with battery packs that if manufacturers were given even a little incentive to DFR, they’d only have to sacrifice a bit of energy density (and, by extension, increase the cost density just a bit) to make their packs immensely easier to recycle.

        Engineering is about tradeoffs, and a large part of green policy is weighting the industry’s tradeoffs to cause them to reduce the externalization of their costs.

        1. Battery packs and solar panels are different things.

          Notably, you’d be a fool to make solar panels out of exposed plastic, decades of UV will cut it’s life short, battery packs are much shorter lived things.

          Using better material directly improves recyclability. Notably the glass layer and the metal physical structure.

          There will come a point where the value of the material minus recovery cost is greater than the present value of future generation. Then hippies will get mad because people are recycling their solar panels for money when they could still generate some power, they live to be self-righteous.

          The cells are about the only thing that currently can’t be recycled economically. There may come a day when 60% degraded cells will be free. We are unlikely to live that long. IIRC the 1%/year degrade number is OLD, from back when a cell couldn’t produce it’s production energy in it’s lifetime.

          Planning a panel so the cells can be replaced? Foolish futureproofing IMHO. The cells will be different by then.

        2. with the auto industry it was necessary for govt regulation to step in and impose emissions standards and fuel efficiency standards with time tables to reach specified goals, etc

          What’s missing in the renewables industry is a commitment across the board to a full life cycle, Earth-friendly, technology stack per their products

          Basically this would mean that a product needs to incorporate decommissioning and reclamation into its very design and conception from the outset

          Govt regulation could step in here to start specifying standards and timeline goals. Start out with, say, 15% reclamation requirement and up that by 10% ever two years. That gives industry time to work on the challenges of said regulatory goals (the end goals would be like 80% .. 90% reclamation – special awards/recognition doled out to anything achieving 100%)

          Left alone on this matter, there is just the usual hand wringing that goes on in public discourse – “yeah, reclamation of end-of-life products is a nice idea, but…”

      2. “Better to design to last over recycle in pretty much all situations – recycling takes heaps of energy,”

        That’s a bit of a non-sequiteur, if they are designed to recycle, the point would be for recycling NOT to take heaps of energy. But also designing to last implies overbuilding, which implies larger or higher value recoverable amount of materials, which is more likely to make recycling either necessary, or just attractive.

        Kinda like why “designed to last” catalytic convertors from 1980s cars fetch a couple hundred bucks each or more due to large amounts of platinum and palladium, whereas early 2000s cars that tend to need cats every 7 years or so, the cats might only be worth $50.

        However, I agree with the point that it’s probably better to stretch the lifetime in underutilised space for them. My recommendation would be south facing walls facing lakes, ponds, rivers, and also carparks that get full in the day, because all that indirect illumination from reflection will boost output.

        1. Kinda like why “designed to last” catalytic convertors from 1980s cars fetch a couple hundred bucks each or more due to large amounts of platinum and palladium, whereas early 2000s cars that tend to need cats every 7 years or so, the cats might only be worth $50.

          I wrote a dissertation on the fundamentals behind this a decade or so ago on the Kitco forums, calling for a fairly rapid swap between the values of platinum and palladium over the next few years (from that point in time).

          My theory came from my background in organic chemistry, mainly platinum-group metal catalysts. Platinum vs Palladium is ALWAYS a matter of cost and duality, as both metals are both essentially equal at 90% of what they do catalytically, and neither are the primary concerns of a mining operation nor do they have the inherent “real money” zeal that people have for silver or gold. Rhodium is the outlier of PGM’s – go look that up if you want a real WTF moment.

          Anyways, with a (very) small available supply, secondary market dynamics can and will directly affect primary markets. Ten years ago Pt:Pd was at ~5:1 parity – past few years it’s closer to 1:3 – Why? Well, when you NEED a PGM process, and palladium is cheaper than platinum, you buy palladium, so that price goes up, the “gold is real money!” guys dump their platinum for palladium, market dynamics flip, and nobody knows what’s really going on.

          Process development occurs either way, things get more efficient or fiind their peak, and everything balances out. Moral of the story? Buy those “garbage” cats while you can – unless you want to wait another decade for the cycle to roll back around.

          . . . And then there’s this whole WW3 thing – we’ve been reliant on Russia for PGM’s for quite a while now, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Food for thought.

        2. Even something designed to easily fall apart to its most basic material components has substantial energy costs to recycling – most metals for instance the recycling energy cost is approaching the same as the new virgin material would be, as so much of the energy demand is in that final melting/forming process.

          Obviously it is still better to recycle than dig up and process ever more ore, for some metals by a larger gap that the above might suggest to you, but its still a huge energy cost to turn scrap parts into good stock.

          So unless you can reuse the AL frame of an old panel directly on the new ones or something – which is more akin to reusing than recycling its better to just build ’em to last well than worry hugely about recycling. More so when the vast bulk of the panels are just silicon, so stacking up a pile of them awaiting economic conditions or improving processes to make recycling them easier is akin to stacking rocks that happen to be strangely uniform in shape.

          1. if recycling metals wasn’t cheaper than new, it would cost money to get rid of scrap metal. making recycled aluminium saves 95% energy over making virgin alumnium

          2. Fonz many metals are not nearly as hard to get from ore to metal as Aluminum is – and I didn’t say it was ever more, just that the difference can be very small.

          3. Foldi: many useful metals are. Aluminum and Magnesium, Titanium etc. are abundant but difficult to refine. Steel or iron is “easy” but also energy-intensive and polluting – especially when you want it cheap.

            Then the other point is supply shortages. Copper for example is needed more than it can be mined. Some other metals are actually by-products of mining and not independently produced, so their supply follows the demand of the parent metal and the prices would go all over the place without recycling as an alternate source.

          4. Price isn’t ENERGY Dude, and energy was all I was talking about.

            I’m not knocking recycling at all, just pointing out its far far better to not have to recycle if you can, as its still really really energy intensive!

          5. >Price isn’t ENERGY Dude

            Money is economic activity, and economic activity consumes resources, which demands energy. The fact that something is expensive means someone else has to work to replace all that economic value.

        3. Everyone is missing the easiest economic based way to get the recycling done. Regulate a requirement that they be recycled and fold it into the cost of a new panel. Meaning that if you are a company that produces anything toxic or that goes to a landfill, require that the producer be responsible for actually recyclimg the product. We woild definitely see a huge drop in plastic use and toxic chemical use across the board as many of these things have better alternatives that cost less than recycling but dont do harm. Eg, glass or paper over plastics. Simplr, yet it wont be done due to regulatory capture by indusrty. Vis a vie, corporations are not people.

          1. That’s simply rolling the cost of recycling to the consumers rather than the producers, which takes away the point of developing more efficient recycling methods.

        4. people talk about sticking solar panels in all manner of places – i.e., saturate the landscape with cheap solar panels

          but there’s a thorny issue

          solar panels generate DC and DC current cannot be conducted very great distances without significant loss – and extending that range means using very large gauge copper conductor wire (or exotic super conductor), which copper itself is these days a material that needs to be preciously minimized in any engineering design

          IOW, that DC electricity needs to somehow be brought to the places where it can be put to use, or put back into the electrical grid, etc

          one could say, well, use ultra high efficiency silicon carbide inverters to convert the DC to AC, but to transfer AC over a distance it needs to be stepped up to high voltage, which means a transformer

          IOW, you’ve now introduced two expensive components into the design – the inverter and the step-up transformer – and both will introduce some degree of conversion efficiency losses

          IOW, solar panels, for pragmatic reasons, need to be placed into situations where consumption of their output will be very convenient, which pretty much means placing them on building structures or else mass array solar electric utility plants

          am personally intrigued with putting solar arrays in remote areas (waste land areas) that don’t have any ready connectivity to the grid and use their power output to generate carbon neutral fuels (using some available water source and CO2 from the atmosphere). then just send a tanker truck around ever so often to collect their output

          1. But here is the thing the old solar panels that get EOL are still good but not as good as the new ones, so it becomes worth swapping them over. But at the same time all the ancillary electronics from the old ones will be replaced – as the same thing is true for them too the new stuff is better.

            So you don’t need (often anyway) new anything to make use of older solar ‘EOL’ panels because they are no longer going to be as profitable to run, you can put the old stuff up exactly as it was in the primary spots it used to occupy, just now in somewhere slightly less ideal. All it really costs in the man hours to put them up, which is probably way less man hours than needed to take them apart for proper recycling…

            p.s I am well aware Inverters do tend to have a significantly shorter lifespan than the panels, so may need replacements, and when moving the panels is a good time to do that for reliability. So it may happen. But it still not a huge expense to turn those ‘waste’ panels into substantial amounts of useful energy, rather than a major energy drain to recycle.

          2. You’re missing the point, AC or DC doesn’t matter, it’s the voltage. AC voltage is traditionally easy to convert with a transformer but now we have small, efficient and cheap DC-DC converters.

      3. That’s why the phrase is “Reduce, re-use, recycle, in that order”. Making (eg) a longer lived solar panel would count as ‘reduce’, because you’re reducing how many you need to manufacture (or buy).
        We tend to only hear about recycling, perhaps because if a company produces a product that is recycled then they can sell it more than once. That’s not the case with a product which doesn’t need replacing.

        1. The point is to achieve circular economies, because digging up new raw materials and dumping it out the other end of the product chain is not sustainable in the long term. True recycling, instead of simply “down-cycling” is the key element. Everything else is just kicking the can down the road.

          Sure, we won’t run out of beach sand in any hurry, but having semi-pure silicon or glass ready to be re-processed reduces the amount of other inputs that are not yet renewable or sustainable.

      4. You’re begging the question a little though.

        It costs more money to carefully disassemble a field of solar panels and ship them to a new location without breaking any, instead of simply ripping them off their mounts and dumping them on the back of a lorry. For recycling it doesn’t matter if they’re already broken.

        1. Maybe not. There’s little reason to remove a field of solar panels unless you’re replacing them with another, in which case it’s likely that the mounts are still good and will be reused. The installer will have to undo every bolt anyway. It’s 4 bolts a panel, and a wiring harness. A smart installer would probably roll two carts along the array, one empty to take the old panels, one full of new panels, and just switch one out for the other. Repeat until done.

          1. It’s more likely to be cheaper to replace the mounts as well, because the new panels are most likely not exactly the same as the old ones – different model or manufacturer, different mounting hole location etc.

            If the old ones were made 30-40 years ago, this is more than likely.

          2. Besides, the mounting structure will have degraded in the 30-40 years anyways. Since it’s typically just cheap galvanized pipe with box or L-beams tied to it, it’s probably going to be cheaper to not even remove all the solar panels but simply cut the frame into manageable sections and lift them onto the back of a truck.

            Labor hours cost money – a lot of money – so if a job can be done by an unskilled person taking down a piece of pipe with a power saw, that’s going to cost a whole lot less. I saw this effect recently; workers were replacing windows in an apartment building. Instead of unscrewing the frames, they simply cut through all around the frame and hoisted the entire thing out. The old frames, sidings, and some of the windows went to splinters in the process, but who’s gonna pay the money for the workers to carefully remove them? It was in and out in an hour with so many apartments to go.

      5. Panels don’t degrade nearly as much as they are warrantied for. The University of Oldenburg installed an array in 1976. Originally the panels were rated at 10.3W with an efficiency of 8.55%. Thirty five years later they are capable of 9.9W at 8.2% efficiency. Current panels are about 22% efficient.

        The reality:
        1) Efficiency improvements of newer panels is likely to lead to replacement more than the declining efficiency of old panels in any area where space is limited or costly. The (amortized cost of upgrade+loss of old income) amortized cost of new install, including land)

        1. HaD mangled that:
          1. Efficiency improvements of newer panels is likely to lead to replacement more than the declining efficiency of old panels in any area where space is limited or costly. The amortized cost of upgrade together with loss of old income is less than the amortized cost of a new install (including land).
          2. A new array on new land is more likely otherwise. The old income remains free money.

        2. It’s not really comparable like that. Newer panels use materials that are more sensitive to light and more reactive to water, they use less of the materials, thinner construction etc. which leads to faster ingress of humidity and chemical changes by UV.

        3. imagine one is operating a massive solar array complex putting output into the utility grid – hundreds if perhaps thousands of panels

          a given solar panel is, say, rated at a 25 year life time – but the reality is that after 50 years there’s perhaps 15% to 20% degradation of output

          so I would expect that the real estate acquired for such a complex is going to have ample space for expansion

          the equation to be balanced might become:

          1) replace end-of-life panels with new ones so that total output is maintained where expected

          2) leave the old panels in place and and new rows of new panels so that the over output is maintained where expected

          such a utility operation as to anticipate increased demand over time so from the outset should have planned for periodic expansion of new solar array units, so such said expansion should could simply factor in panel degradation

          and maybe after a hundred years of operating in this manner (always expanding), it’s finally time to phase over to fusion power :-)

      6. I totally agree. I have been looking for old panels for off gird applications. I think the place that recycling needs to be stepped up is on batteries. They go bad to the point of being useless.

      7. Reuse AND Recycle – Replacing the doped surface layer of a degraded cell should be possible. Most of the cost and energy goes into the purification of the polysilicon. Grind. scrape or etch away the metalisation and the old doped upper layer then redope and possibly add a Peroskvite layer to make an improved cell.

    2. Both the efficiency and lifetime of a panel is directly related to the quality of its encapsulation. Without encapsulation, oxygen and moisture would quickly make the silicon degrade in UV. The current encapsulation is usually ethylene vinyl acetate because it has excellent light transmission properties in addition to its encapsulating properties.

      Think of it as Design for Reduce.

    3. Reuse AND Recycle – Replacing the doped surface layer of a degraded cell should be possible. Most of the cost and energy goes into the purification of the polysilicon. Grind. scrape or etch away the metalisation and the old doped upper layer then redope and possibly add a Peroskvite layer to make an improved cell.

  1. In many cases, old PV panels aren’t “bad”; they just have reduced output due to age, heat, and UV damage from the sun. Such panels can simply be re-purposed for less-critical applications.

    For example, I have a set of Arco M52L quadlam PV panels on my garage roof. They were made in 1983 for the Carizzo Plains PV plant, which was shut down in the late 1990’s due to reduced output. The PV panels were sold on the surplus market, which is how I got mine. They are now almost 40 years old, but still delivering about half their rated power!

    PV panels are made from many small cells, all wired in series/parallel arrangements. If a panel does fail, it is possible to find the bad connection or broken cell, and wire around it. This lets the rest of the cells in the panel keep working, to extend its life. I have two “bad” PV panels that I got for free, and simply fixed the broken connections between a couple cells.

    Repair, repurpose, recycle, reuse! :-)

    1. Yah, be much better just separating them into cells and re-empanelling the ones that check out above a certain threshold. We’ve probably still got many million square miles of places we could put solar panels than panels to put on them.

      Even at the really degraded end, 5% of power of sunlight > 0% of the power of the sunlight.

      1. Depends on how much labor it costs you to keep them in operation. That translates to cost per kWh, which needs to be competitive with what you can buy off the market to make any sense.

  2. How to buy a panel which is “eco-friendly” about recycling?
    I think companies like Veolia may work with panel manufactures and create a list of recommended to buy models of panels, which are easier to recycle. Or, create some standard rules for manufactures, so some panel models will comply with them (and will be more expansive or less effective).

    1. Incorrect. Reusing silicon is far more expensive than getting it from raw materials. You want highly pure silicon for PVs to start with and recycled silicon will have impurities.

        1. The doped silicon has impurities that are used to dope the silicon to make it conductive. Unfortunately you need the right impurities in the right places to make a solar cell. To do this you start with intric silicon and add gallium and arsinic to the right places.

          1. That doesn’t answer the question. Silicon from raw materials *also* needs to be heavily purified before use; are you claiming that it’s harder to purify recycled silicon than ore?

          2. DerAxeman is just wrong. The most energy intensive step in the process is the initial reduction from quartz into metallurgical grade silicon, the subsequent chemical purification steps removes impurities. Melting down the silicon in solar panels gets you to metallurgical grade silicon immediately, saving a good chunk of the energy costs

          3. The process of producing solar panels involves turning silicon into silane gas (SiH4) by conversion involving hydrochloric acid and hydrogen. The silane gas is thermally decomposed to produce pure silicon in a vapor deposition process. This step is not very energy intensive, but the production of HCl and hydrogen can be.

            There’s a side product of silicon tetrachloride waste which can be further processed into silane, but which is often dumped in the environment by cheap producers looking to save money. It decomposes into silicon dioxide and hydrochloric acid with exposure to water.

          4. Oh, and the irony is that the energy to convert sand into metallurgical grade silicon and then into solar panels comes from fossil fuels: the initial reduction step requires carbon, and the source of hydrogen for the conversion is natural gas (and/or water gas shift reaction with coal).

            So the reason why solar panels are cheap as they are is because fossil fuels are cheap in China.

    1. Wish for that all you want but it probably won’t happen. Any time you force recycling that isn’t profitable costs are going to be cut to the bone. That means exploitation of impoverished nations and polution.

  3. Just because tons of something is available for recycling doesn’t mean it’s efficient to do so. The fact is, solar panels are bulky and don’t contain large amounts by weight of valuable materials like gold or copper. Realistically they will end up in a landfill unless recycling technology improves A LOT.

    I suspect that if they serve their whole 25 service life out in the sun that they’d still be worth the manufacturing cost; but a magic bullet they are not.

    1. If you don’t trash them their realistic service life is well over 25years…

      Though with how many panels are being produced to be a highly preprocessed so pretty pure source of raw silicon materials it will be worth it eventually. So stack em up in a disused quarry or something awaiting that time. Or better still just erect them in the less profitable areas for solar power – they were taken down as the new ones are better by enough to be worth the effort of swapping them into the best spots doesn’t make the old ones dud.

  4. When exactly is the “recycle it” decision taken? Which phenomena are behind the “age out” noted?
    The other possibility, damage, is rarely a total one.
    I feel that, while on industrial scale they may really be useless, there could be many side re-uses in the individuals world. Of course, if they were available.

  5. I were going to argue that the description of veolia as a waste management company was unfair, as i distinctly remember them running our school bus back in the day. But looking it up they indeed seen to be in waste management. Although I guess transporting us little shitheads aren’t that far from their core business.

  6. Ummm… Other than the aluminum frame and the copper connector only about 1.5 % of a solar cell is metal. Of that most of it is aluminum. I don’t know how this researcher is claiming junk solar cells are the next gold mine. Its going to cost more money than it is worth tho try and recycle this.

      1. 1.1% copper is about on par with the ores they dig up in many commercial mines (0.6% – 2%). If this stuff was pulverized ore coming out of a mill, it would be considered high grade – but with solar panels its much easier (cheaper) to separate mechanically because you can get rid of 90% of the materials (glass, frame, plastics) using less-energy intensive mechanical means.

      1. Just donate (or sell at scrap price) them to any DIYer who wants a try at fixing them or reusing them in creative ways, even a panel that’s impractical to fix could easily be turned into a solar thermal collector.

  7. At the end of the day every solar cell is just a very large array of specialised diodes which have a very large PN junction. Which makes me wonder could be diced up with specialised cutting equipment, surrounded in a light proof coating, tested, characterised, binned into a performance categories and recycled as cheap diodes ?

    They may be very slow low performance diodes, but there must be something that they can be used for that they are exceptionally good ? Maybe radiation detectors ? (Commercial CCDs are extremely sensitive to TID – Total Ionizing Dose, maybe a solar cell with no access to light might be sensitive).

    1. Diced up means that the junctions would be exposed and the periphery would be saturated with leaky crystal microcracks. You’re talking fabrication techniques from 70 years ago, and there isn’t a practical use on this earth for something with performance and reliability that bad.

  8. I wonder about one thing that this article doesn’t touch on – Most solar panels contains a lot of problematic heavy metals, such as Cadmium and, Indium and Tellurium. Grinding up the cells and mixing it with normal “glass” isn’t very smart with all these heavy metals in the mix.

  9. Disappointed to learn that for one’s investment in solar panels, you merely rent utility for a short time.

    Accumulated UV light exposure then renders them so inefficient as to be of practically no use.

    No accident, but planned adhesive degradation.

    EVA, or ethylene vinyl acetate, is used as an encapsulant. It turns an opaque brown with age and UV exposure.

    I have an archaic, adhesive-free, glass sandwich panel, that even today produces near it’s full specification.

      1. I’d be inclined to try attacking them with some combo of retr0bright and headlight housing restoration methods… though be aware that retrobright is also a name for a brand of headlight replacement bulbs for older cars, so search separately.

          1. Might be the case for my archaic glass-sandwich panel…dunno?

            The one’s on my garage roof are vacuum sealed under a layer of EVA film. You can see and feel all the cell connections and inter-connections through it.

            Nasty things, these EVA ‘protected’ solar panels. My choice would be fused silica and lead glass (see link below).

    1. I know I’m asking for it here, but shouldn’t we be demanding epoxide encapsulated panels, with Zinc Oxide UV screening?

      You know, like they have in orbit. 25-years full-capacity service, would be just the start.

      1. Glass seems to be the protective shield, for solar panels in space:

        “…borosilicate glass panel coverings, reduce to between 5-10% efficiency loss per year.

        Other glass coverings, such as fused silica and lead glasses, may reduce this efficiency loss to less than 1% per year.”


        My ‘browned’ panels are vacuum sealed, under a layer of EVA film (ethylene vinyl acetate), which just contributes to degradation.

  10. Solar power will rapidly become a niche energy producer for isolated applications, subscribe to the newsletters from fusion energy companies such as TAE Technologies if you want a better feel for where things are really headed, and how fast. With $1.2 billion having gone into just that one player in a very diverse industry it is clear that it is now the main game, even Chevron have invested in them, which is a clear indication of how they see the future unfolding.

          1. fusion is only 10years away.. And it was 10 years away 60 years ago. And will probably be 10 years away 20 years from now. In fact, it may be destined to be 10 years away for longer than anyone reading this might be alive…

          2. So your saying you don’t pay a lot of attention to the mass media.

            Good choice.

            It’s an old question: Has anybody seen the mass media get something technical right? Particularly things you really understand.

            So far the answer is a uniform 100% NO.

  11. The same industrialists who caused the problem will advertise products they’ve churned out of factories to ameliorate the problem. The solutions won’t work, of course, only make the problem worse. Few are able to say that the solution is to get rid of the industrialists, nor are they able to say that we truly are overpopulated beyond any of our engineering solutions.
    The coming centuries will consist of carefully engineered and perfectly deniable mass die-offs, finally numbering in the billions. They will continue to shame you for bottlecaps and straws and other little bits.

  12. I was wondering, how “dead” is considered “dead”? Is it “all dead” or just “mostly dead”, because “mostly dead” is still slightly alive. (yes, Princess Bride reference) Could panels that are somewhere down that road be “down-cycled” to less demanding uses, to at least put off the inevitable?

  13. The smartest thing to do beside throw them all in an old open pit mine, is grind them up and use them in the concrete of modern nuclear power plants. For what an EU country has spent on wind and solar they could be like France today but with better reactors.

      1. Hehehe, though if they keep playing Rugby with that ol Gaelic flair as they have in recent years I think I could perhaps consider being a Frog as not entirely awful…

        Seriously though good as nuclear is for many things its still a rather more finite precious resource than our star – that big ball of bright stuff isn’t going anywhere for so long its practically forever, where the nuclear resources are only however much we can find there is. At least until fusion become practical. So it makes sense to not throw all our energy dependency on it when the renewables can help us keep that more precious energy source for the stuff that actually needs it – can’t easily probe deeper space or the deep oceans long term without nuclear reactors (yet anyway).

        1. The guys from Top gear have made me like the frogs, just a little bit.

          When their government installed speed cameras 80% were destroyed within 6 months.

          I’d add the stereotype of ‘rude Frenchman’ isn’t really true, ‘rude Parisian’ is the truth of the matter. Outside that shithole they’re normal people. Never go to Paris for vacation, go for the abuse (right next to arguments).

  14. Silly question: why aren’t solar panels with internal faults (like bad interconnects) or cracked glass simply repaired?
    For Third World countries even a panel with a few shorted cells is useful and can last another few years before they finally break down. Believe this is an exemption under Basel as its a “repaired product in functional condition”
    I’ve had some success fusing interconnects and my plan is to use a pair of red phlatlights with modified lenses for preheating and cell test, and a blue M140 set up to focus onto the panel with a “black cup” over the jig.
    Using a webcam with filter as the alignment tool, estimate that this laser welding method is an effective repair.
    Interesting aside: this should work on tin whiskers as well if you can locate them eg with induction or looking for “hot spots” with a modified IR heat detector and a chopper made from a rotary phone vibrate motor.
    Shame I didn’t have this when a panel turned up that had got damage from a storm: you could see the breaks but was unable to repair due to not having any way to non destructively access the interconnects.

  15. Factories around the globe are rising to the challenge to provide what we need.

    Hahahhahahaha yeah rising from 1% to 1.5% There is one realistic option and you left it out.

  16. really hate wind turbines with a passion (one dead bird is a bird too many and they kill tons of them)

    but once they’re end-of-life there are no reclamation options for those gargantuan blades

    at least with nuclear reactor waste we can now use that to make nuclear diamond batteries and as a source of fuel for new reactor designs

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