Solar power is enjoying massive popularity in Utah, as installation prices continue to decrease in this sun-rich state. As you drive across any county here, you are bound to seep patches of solar modules on the roofs of homes and business premises.
Solar panels are the upcoming major source of energy, and it is evident that Utah residents adhere to this fact. Now, as we solve energy problems, are we considerate of a potential challenge in the future? What will happen to the millions of solar panels when their 25 years expected life expires?
The Challenge with Solar Panel Waste
While the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) had estimated the global solar panel waste as 250,000 metric tons in 2016, that figure will most likely hit the 78 million tons mark by 2050. The problem is not even this weight or space occupied by the waste. It is about the contents of solar panels.
Most solar panels carry toxic chemicals such as cadmium and lead, and these can only be removed if the solar panel is broken apart. Cadmium is specifically a serious one, as it can be washed out by rainwater, making it a hazardous material spill.
Many can recall how Hurricane Maria tore apart a massive solar farm in Puerto Rico a few years ago. The environmental effect of the solar panels damaged in the aftermath is unimaginable. Although most of the panel is glass, recycling is not an easy option because of impurities. Solar panels are considered e-waste because their components often resemble those of conventional electronics.
The Role of Stakeholders
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has good news, though: Up to 90% of solar panel components are recyclable and can produce new solar panels.
As it stands, no law on hazardous material spills in Utah specifically governs solar panel waste management, so many of these may fill the landfills in the next few years. That is why all developers in this industry are being urged to devise ways of forestalling such a scenario.
The Need for Guidelines
The European markets have implemented guidelines for the solar sector and realized the benefits. This is because players will not be motivated by economic, considering that the cost of raw materials is insignificant compared to the cost of transportation and recycling. The installers and manufacturers who are developing systems for recycling and collection purposes deserve some recognition.
Incentives for Recycling
Incentives for solar panel installation exist, but they could also help if they extend to recycling. While the U.S. handles solar panel waste through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Europe is a few steps ahead because they have the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to take care of recycling and such. The only bit remaining is creative planning for solar panel waste streams.
While most of the solar panels in Utah still have some years left in their lives, it is good to prepare for the future where disposal will be inevitable. It is important for the government, private sector, and consumers to make efforts so that waste management of panels will make sense in all the necessary aspects.