Many industries, such as the electronics industry in recent history, have not taken responsibility for the proper disposal of dangerous substances from disposable consumer goods. The solar industry is under pressure to not repeat this mistake, since many of the same potentially dangerous materials are also present in solar panels. A number of companies and organizations have developed and monitor programs for recycling solar modules.
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
In the United States, the nonprofit environmental group Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (svtc.org) is leading the way in monitoring problems of e-waste in the Silicon Valley and Bay Area of California. This organization has identified hazardous disposal sites created by the semiconductor industry and is now focusing its attention on the booming solar industry on the front end, before most of the solar panels installed in the U.S. reach their lifespan of 20 years. SVTC recently published a report and created a solar companies scorecard to evaluate companies' records and programs with respect to the production and disposal of solar modules.
Solar Manufacturers Doing Their Own Recycling
Some companies are doing their own recycling, although they claim to be interested in eventually hiring third-party recyclers to handle larger volumes once the demand for these services is higher. SolarWorld (solarworld-USA.com) has recycled its panels since 2003 at its factory in Germany. First Solar (firstsolar.com) is based in Arizona and has recycling facilities at manufacturing sites in Ohio, Germany and Malaysia. Officials at First Solar claim that currently most of the recycling is of manufacturing scrap. These companies view the recycling process as an expense, because they can often purchase new materials at a lower cost than harvesting recycled materials. Nevertheless, they are committed to develop responsible programs to harvest reusable precious metals and other substances that on a larger scale could be less of an expense to the manufacturer. Moreover, when manufacturers begin to keep recycling in mind during the design process, then savings will seen in the recycling process. In Europe, many solar companies are pooling their efforts to create associations in order to recycle solar panels. The PV Cycle Association embraces seventeen companies, the German Solar Industry Association (BSW) and the European Photovoltaic industry association (EPIA).
Third-Party Companies Doing Recycling
Founded in 2009 in Arizona, PV Recycling (pvrecycling.com) works with solar panel manufacturers to use their third-party services. In her article "Solar Panel Recycling Gears Up", Erica Gies reports that although solar companies want to recycle and would rather that a third-party company handle this part of their business, there are still issues of protecting manufacturing secrets. Furthermore, solar panels are constructed by various processes and use various technologies. Therefore, while older technologies, like the crystalline photovoltaic (manufactured by SolarWorld) contain lead, other manufacturing processes use technologies that employ cadmium, indium and selenium, all potentially hazardous substances. The continued high demand for solar energy in the U.S. market, as well as the decreasing costs of solar when compared to nuclear energy, point to a growing market for companies like PV Recycling.
More Information on Solar Panel Recycling
For more extensive information on Solar Panel Recycling, consult the article by Erica Gies entitled "Solar Panel Recycling Gears Up" in The Daily Green (thedailygreen.com).
- David Wasserman/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images