In recent years, encouragement from the solar industry have pushed for the development of recycling programs for panels past their prime.
Solar panel recycling now has the potential to become a huge industry in of its own.
Better recycling practices can prevent large amounts of waste from hitting landfills while reclaiming the materials needed to manufacture solar panels in the future.
Solar panels produced today have an estimated energy pay back period of two years. Basically, in two years they will have produced more electricity than was required to make them. This quick return on investment is even better considering that solar panels manufactured today have an estimated minimum lifetime of about 30 years. Most manufacturers are so certain of the lifespan that they generally offer 25-30 year warranties. Panels in use throughout the post-warranty period will continue to produce electricity – just at a lower rate of production.
There is nothing yet mandated at a national level, but there are a few states trying to get the required recycling ball moving. In July 2017, Washington became the first state to pass a solar stewardship bill (ESSB 5939), which requires manufacturers that sell solar products into the state to have end-of-life recycling programs for their own products. Manufacturers that do not provide a recycling program or outline will not be able to sell solar modules into the state after Jan. 1, 2021. Regional takeback locations will be set up to accept solar panels at no cost to the system owner, and the state may charge manufacturers for the program. Final plans are still being decided. New York and California are coming up with similar programs with many other states to follow.
The clock is ticking since the U.S has about 15 to 20 years before solar panel recycling becomes a major issue. Plenty of time to figure out the best course of action based on the estimated lifespan of current solar panels.