By Sarah Lozanova
Solar power is now the fastest-growing energy source. In fact, an estimated 500,000 solar panels were installed globally every day in 2015. A typical American home requires 28 to 34 solar panels to produce 100 percent of its energy consumption.
As the solar energy industry grows, there is a looming waste management issue. What will happen to the millions and millions of solar panels that are dotting rooftops across the globe at the end of their useful lives?
Few Solar Panel Recycling Options Exist Now
At the moment, most countries do not have a robust recycling infrastructure in place for solar panels. Most of the solar panels that are disposed of each year are damaged or defective. Because solar is a relatively young industry, few systems are being decommissioned each year.
The design life of a solar panel is roughly 20 to 30 years, and most solar panel manufacturers provide a performance guarantee to protect solar system owners. Solar panels become less efficient over time, and performance guarantees protects consumers if the energy production declines prematurely. The guarantee offers solar homeowners peace of mind that the solar panels will generate a certain amount of power, barring unexpectedly cloudy weather. Many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production after 10 years and 85 percent after 25 years.
Most of the systems installed in the 1980s are still churning out an acceptable amount of power, so solar panel recycling hasn’t become very widespread. The day will come, however, when a robust recycling infrastructure will be needed because more solar systems will be decommissioned.
Freelance clean energy writer