California pioneered the promotion of rooftop solar energy, building the largest solar market in the US. More than 20 years and 1.3 million roofs later, the bill is coming in.
Starting in 2006, the state, focused on how to encourage people to use solar energy, distributed subsidies to homeowners who installed photovoltaic panels but did not have a comprehensive plan to dispose of them. Panels purchased under these programs are now reaching the end of their typical 25-year lifecycle.
22:30. July 14, 2022An earlier version of this article misattributed a statement by Evelyn Butler, Vice President of Technical Services at Solar Energy Industries Assn., to Jen Bristol, Senior Director of Group Communications. It also misidentified the group as the Solar Energy Industry Assn. This article has also been updated to reflect the current professional affiliations of Sam Vanderhoof and Jigar Shah and to clarify that 25 years is the typical lifespan of PV panels, but not a fixed limit. Also, in a discussion of transporting photovoltaic panels to recycling or hazardous waste disposal facilities, the word “cells” was changed to “panels” for greater accuracy.
An earlier version of this article erroneously attributed a statement by Evelyn Butler, vice president of technical services for Solar Energy Industries Assn., to Jen Bristol, senior director of group communications. It also misidentified the group as the Solar Energy Industry Assn.
This article has also been updated to reflect the current professional affiliations of Sam Vanderhoof and Jigar Shah and to clarify that 25 years is the typical lifespan of PV panels, but not a fixed limit. Also, in a discussion of transporting photovoltaic panels to recycling or hazardous waste disposal facilities, the word “cells” was changed to “panels” for greater accuracy.
Many are already ending up in landfills, where components that contain toxic heavy metals like selenium and cadmium can contaminate groundwater.
“People just don’t realize that there are toxic materials in these electronics, that it’s okay if it’s just in a box in your house,” said Natalie Click, a material science doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona who is studying the subject. . “But once it’s crushed and placed in the landfill, a lot of these chemicals and toxic materials will leak into groundwater.”
Sam Vanderhoof, solar industry expert and chief executive of Recycle PV Solar, says only 1 in 10 panels are actually recycled, according to estimates drawn from data from the International Renewable Energy Agency on decommissioned panels and industry leaders.
The looming challenge of dealing with truckloads of contaminated waste illustrates how cutting-edge environmental policy can create unforeseen dangers in the future.
“The industry must be green,” Vanderhoof said. “But in reality, it’s all about the money.”
California got to solar energy early. Small government discounts did little to lower the price of solar panels or encourage their adoption until 2006, when the California Public Utilities Commission formed the California Solar Initiative. This provided $3.3 billion in subsidies for installing solar panels on rooftops.
The measure exceeded its targets, lowering the price of solar panels and increasing the share of the state’s electricity produced by the sun. Because of this and other measures, such as requiring utilities to buy a portion of their electricity from renewable sources, solar power now accounts for 15% of the state’s energy.
But as California moved forward with its renewable energy program, focusing on rebates and – more recently – a solar tax proposal, the questions of how to deal with the toxic waste that would accumulate years later were never fully addressed. . Now both regulators and panel makers are realizing that they don’t have the capacity to deal with what comes next.
“This garbage will likely arrive sooner than we expected and it will be a huge amount of waste,” said Serasu Duran, an assistant professor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary in Canada. “But while all the focus has been on building this renewable capacity, little consideration has been given to the end-of-life of these technologies.”
Duran co-wrote a recent article in the Harvard Business Review that noted that “industry capacity is woefully unprepared for the deluge of waste that is likely to come.”
It’s not just a problem in California, but also across the country. About 140,000 panels are installed every day in the United States, and the solar industry is expected to quadruple in size between 2020 and 2030.
Although 80% of a typical photovoltaic panel is made from recyclable materials, taking them apart and recovering the glass, silver and silicon is extremely difficult.
“There is no doubt that there will be an increase in solar panels entering the waste stream over the next decade,” said AJ Orben, vice president of We Recycle Solar, a Phoenix-based company that dismantles panels and extracts the valuable metals during elimination of toxic elements. “That was never a question.”
The vast majority of We Recycle Solar’s business comes from California, but the company has no facilities in the state. Instead, the panels are trucked to a location in Yuma, Arizona. That’s because California’s strict toxic materials licensing system makes installation extremely difficult, Orben said.
Recycling solar panels is not a simple process. Highly skilled equipment and workers are required to separate the aluminum frame and junction box from the panel without breaking it into shards of glass. Specialized furnaces are used to heat panels to recover silicon. In most states, panels are classified as hazardous materials, which require costly restrictions on packaging, shipping, and storage.
Orben said the economics of the process are not a compelling argument for recycling.
Only about $2 to $4 worth of materials is recovered from each panel. Most of the processing costs are labor-related, and Orben said even recycling panels at scale would not be more cost-effective.
Most research on photovoltaic panels is focused on recovering solar-grade silicon to make recycling economically viable.
This distorts economic incentives against recycling. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that it costs about $20 to $30 to recycle a panel versus $1 to $2 to send it to a landfill.
Most experts assume this is where most panels are ending up right now. But it’s an open question. Click said there is no uniform system “to track where all these deactivated panels are going”.
The California Department of Toxic Substances collected its first data on panels recycled by universal waste handlers in 2021. For handlers who accepted more than 200 pounds or generated more than 10,000 pounds of panels, the DTSC counted 335 panels accepted for recycling, Sanford said. Nax, the agency’s spokesperson.
The department expects the number of solar panels installed over the next decade to exceed hundreds of millions in California alone, and that recycling will become even more crucial as cheaper panels with shorter lifespans become more popular.
A lack of consumer awareness of the toxicity of materials in panels and how to dispose of them is part of the problem, experts said.
“There is an information gap, a technology gap and a financial gap that we are working on,” said Amanda Bybee, co-founder of SolarRecycle.org, a website designed to help people understand how to recycle solar panels and how the process works.
The site lists two locations in California that recycle panels, but Bybee notes that the site is based on user-submitted information and is not comprehensive. At least one of the California listed locations, Fabtech Enterprises, sends panels to confidential offsite recycling partners.
Last year, the new DTSC standard came into force, which reclassified the panels, changing the way they can be collected and transported. Previously, all panels had to be treated as hazardous waste upon removal, which restricted transport and storage.
Both commercial and residential consumers, or generators as they are called in the recycling industry, should transport the panels themselves to certified hazardous waste recycling or disposal facilities. With little tracking, it’s unclear how often this has occurred.
Solar panels are now classified as universal waste and can be collected at more than 400 universal waste handlers in California, where they are evaluated and transported to disposal, reuse or recycling facilities. Above, solar panels are installed on a roof.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Panels are now classified as universal waste and can be collected at more than 400 universal waste handlers in California, where they are evaluated and transported to disposal, reuse or recycling facilities. The new regulations were intended to make it easier for people to hand in their panels, but they don’t directly address the next step – recycling.
“What this [rule] does is really just change the way this material is handled, managed, stored and transported,” said Orben of We Recycle Solar. “It doesn’t change the way this material is actually processed.”
In 2016, Solar Energy Industries Assn., a non-profit trade association for the US solar industry, started a panel recycling program. Robert Nicholson, the association’s PV Recycling manager, said he intends to help the industrial group’s recycling partners – five so far – “develop compatible and cost-effective recycling services for end-of-life modules.”
“Most recyclers are already existing recyclers; they’re mostly producing e-waste or glass,” said Evelyn Butler, vice president of technical services at Solar Energy Industries Assn. “So we had to work with them to make that leap, to say, ‘We believe the processes you’re using can accommodate the technology.’” The association also works with regulators to draft legislation that would decrease the number of panels going to landfill. .
Government subsidies are a way to make recycling solar panels economically viable for waste generators, who now bear much of the cost of recycling.
In Europe, a recently enacted regulation called the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive places a responsibility on producers to support their products through responsible end-of-life disposal. It requires all producers manufacturing panels for EU countries to finance end-of-life collection and recycling.
Similar legislation has been attempted in several US states, including Washington, where the Photovoltaic Modules Management and Recovery Program will require solar panel manufacturers to fund end-of-life recycling. The initiative was approved in 2017 and will begin to be implemented in 2025. It is the only producer responsibility law in the United States.
It is part of a larger strategy in the recycling industry called extended producer responsibility, in which the cost of recycling is built into the cost of a product at its initial purchase. Business entities in the product chain — rather than the general public — become responsible for end-of-life costs, including recycling costs.
Jigar Shah, co-founder of Generate Capital, a fund that invests in sustainable infrastructure, said the problem can be addressed early in the product chain — by manufacturers. Shah, who is now director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Loan Programs, said policymakers need to require manufacturers to come up with a standard design that makes panels easier and cheaper to recycle.
“It’s much more cost-effective for manufacturers to be forced to work together… where they try to greatly reduce the cost of all of this collectively. This happens through politics,” he said. “That doesn’t happen through people who choose to participate.”
Although 80% of a typical photovoltaic panel is made from recyclable materials, disassembling a panel and recovering the glass, silver and silicon is extremely difficult.
In April 2022, Santa Monica completed a pilot solar panel recycling program in partnership with the California Product Stewardship Council, a public-private partnership. The board of directors surveyed local residential solar power owners and found that many, not knowing what to do with end-of-life panels, called installers for help.
“We found that solar installers were the best contact for how many decommissioned panels were in our area,” said Drew Johnstone, a sustainability analyst in Santa Monica. “Some contractors ended up having to pile them up in their warehouses because there is no good solution where to bring them.”
Johnstone says universal waste reclassification has made a big difference, reducing the cost and paperwork required for handling modules, and more handlers can accept generator panels.
“It’s going to be a really big problem in several years,” Johnstone said. “So it would be up to the local, county, state and also federal governments to have a plan for all these panels that will reach the end of their useful life in 10 to 15 years.”
Kisela is a special correspondent.
Solar farms can also reinforce inequality. Subsidies and carbon taxes have made cleaner energy cheaper. In Germany, a backlash against renewables has escalated in opposition to the high costs these measures impose on poorer consumers who remain dependent on utilities and the grid.
Which is the best solar system for home?
Based on factors like efficiency, durability, product warranty, price, and temperature coefficient, these are the best solar panels for home use: On the same subject : What solar energy rebates and incentives are available ?.
- LG: Better overall.
- SunPower: More Efficient.
- Panasonic: Best temperature coefficient.
- Silfab: Best Guarantee.
- Canadian manor: more affordable.
- Trina Solar: Best value.
Can a house run 100% solar? With a modern solar energy system, including energy storage, you can definitely run an entire house completely on solar power. Today’s high-efficiency solar panels and solar batteries make it cheaper than ever to power an entire home using only solar energy.
How many solar panels do you need to power a house?
How many solar panels does an average home need? With a home of approximately 1,500 square feet, it is estimated that 15 to 18 solar panels will be needed. See the article : Using the power of the sun to roast green chile.
How many solar panels do I need for a 2000 square foot house?
So a 2,000 square foot house would be allowed a 4,000 watt solar panel. Depending on the type of panel you choose, a system this size would have anywhere from 12 to 18 solar panels. Keep in mind that this formula for calculating consumption varies depending on who produces your electricity.
How many solar panels do I need to power a 3 bedroom house?
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How much solar power is needed to run an average home?
The average home in the United States is approximately 1,500 square feet. With a house this size, the typical electric bill comes to about $100 a month. To cover the electricity for this house, you would need about 15 to 18 solar panels.
What are 7 uses of solar energy?
Uses of solar energy include solar electricity, solar water heating, solar heating, solar ventilation, solar lighting, portable solar (for personal electronic devices) and solar transport (for electric vehicles).
What are the four main uses of solar energy? The most commonly used solar technologies for homes and businesses are solar PV for electricity, passive solar design for space heating and cooling, and solar water heating. Companies and industries use solar technologies to diversify their energy sources, improve efficiency and save money.
What are the 3 main ways we use solar energy?
There are three main ways to harness solar energy: photovoltaics, solar heating and cooling, and solar energy concentration.
What are the main uses of solar energy?
Solar energy is commonly used for solar water heaters and home heating. The heat of solar ponds allows the production of chemicals, food, textiles, hot greenhouses, swimming pools and livestock buildings. Cooking and providing a power source for electronic devices can also be achieved using solar energy.
What are 5 ways we use solar energy?
The five main uses of solar energy are solar electricity, solar water heating, solar heating, solar ventilation and solar lighting. There are more uses for solar energy, but homes and businesses typically use solar energy for these purposes.
What 3 types of energy can solar energy be converted?
Solar photons naturally convert into three forms of energy – electricity, chemical fuel and heat – which seamlessly connect with existing energy chains.
Do solar panels work at night?
While solar panels can still work on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, in which solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current.
Do solar panels still work on cloudy days? Photovoltaic panels can use direct or indirect sunlight to generate energy, although they are more effective in direct sunlight. Solar panels will still work even when light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. Rain really helps keep your panels operating efficiently, washing away any dust or dirt.
Do solar panels get power at night?
As mentioned above, solar panels do not produce electricity at night. But they tend to produce extra energy during the day when the sun is out. To balance things out and keep electricity running after dark, solar customers use solar battery banks to store energy or net metering.
Are there any solar panels that work at night?
Solar panels that can generate electricity at night were developed at Stanford. The farm is seen with standard solar panels from Cypress Creek Renewables, Oct. 28, 2021, in Thurmont, Maryland. A team of engineers at Stanford University has developed a solar cell that can generate electricity at night.
Which is the best solar panel?
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Which type of solar panel is best? The most efficient solar panel is the monocrystalline solar panel. Monocrystalline solar panels can achieve more than 20% efficiency. On the other hand, polycrystalline panels can usually only achieve 13-16% efficiency.
What are the 3 types of solar panels?
In this blog we will explore the three main types of solar panel cells: polycrystalline, monocrystalline and thin film. Understanding the difference between the three is the first step in selecting the perfect panel for your home, business or community.
What are the 3 basic types of solar cells?
Solar cells can be divided into three broad types, crystalline silicon-based thin-film solar cells and a more recent development that is a mixture of the other two.
What are the 2 types of solar panels?
There are two main types of solar panel cells: polycrystalline and monocrystalline. It’s important to understand the difference between the two, because your choice will determine the cost and amount of roof space your solar installation requires. Polycrystalline types of solar panels were developed first.
Is monocrystalline or polycrystalline better?
Monocrystalline solar cells are more efficient because they are cut from a single source of silicon. Polycrystalline solar cells are blended from various sources of silicon and are slightly less efficient. Thin film technology costs less than mono or poly panels, but it is also less efficient.