On this week’s Energy Show were talking about old solar panels. Specifically, what do you do with them?
Solar panels last 30 years or more. Almost all of the old panels that I have tested still crank out close to their original power output. Unfortunately, old solar panels are not compatible with the electronics of new systems – inverters, optimizers and microinverters. Sort of like that old CD-ROM software that is still good…if you could just get a computer that has a CD-ROM drive and runs Windows XP.
Some people want to upgrade their old 14% efficiency panels with new 20%+ efficiency panels equipped with a battery storage system. One big benefit of upgrading or adding panels is that the 30% tax credit applies to all new equipment — including that old inverter that may have failed. I expect that commercial customers will also start to upgrade their systems, replacing thousands of old panels with thousands of new panels.
So what do you do with these old panels? Even though they are constructed of recyclable glass, aluminum and silicon, there has not been a viable solution for recycling solar panels. Instead of dumping old solar panels in landfills, my friend and solar guru Sam Vanderhoof has a solution to this problem: his new company called Recycle PV Solar (recyclepv.solar).
Sam estimates that about 95% of solar panels are going into landfills. 15 gigawatts of solar panels were installed in the U.S. in 2016 – that represents about 6 million pounds of panels being installed every day! On a cumulative basis there are about 53 gigwatts of panels currently installed in the U.S., or about 200 million solar panels. To visualize the enormity of this recycling challenge, a train filled with containers of solar panels would be 1,500 miles long! Please Listen Up to this Week’s Energy Show to learn more about the challenges, economics and opportunities of recycling solar panels.