According to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme, the recycling or repurposing of solar PV panels could spark an industry worth $15 billion by 2050.
With many panels enjoying a working life of approximately 30 years, the raw materials in them can be harvested and reused or recycled for large profit.
The study was the first in its kind to investigate PV waste panels up until the year 2050, and found that estimates for panel waste could total 78 million tonnes globally.
Although European countries currently lead the way in terms of capacity increases, the study found that China could be the largest country to support PV recycling, expecting to produce between 13.5 million and 20 million tonnes in volume by 2050.
It is expected that the US could also recycle up to between 7.5 and 10 million tonnes.
IRENA director-general, Adnan Amin said that:
Global installed PV capacity reached 222GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to further rise to 4,500 GW by 2050.
“With this tremendous capacity growth will come an increase in waste associated with the sector. This brings about new business opportunities to ‘close the loop’ for solar PV panels at the end of their lifetime.”
Amin continued, saying that the recycling and or repurposing of solar panels could offer an industry of “considerable value”, but warned that this was dependent on the correct kind of policies being put in to place and the enabling of frameworks.
In many countries solar panel waste is classified as general waste in the EU, solar panels fall into the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which aims to:
- Reduce the waste arising from electrical and electronic equipment.
- Improve the environmental performance of those involved in the life cycle of electrical and electronic products.
This means that producers of solar panels are also responsible for the disposal and recycling of the modules that are sold within EU member states.
Interestingly however, WEEE does not cover the disposal and recycling of solar thermal panels.