For now, although, photo voltaic recyclers face important financial, technological, and regulatory challenges. A part of the issue, says NREL’s Curtis, is an absence of knowledge on panel recycling charges, which hinders potential coverage responses which may present extra incentives for solar-farm operators to recycle end-of-life panels reasonably than dump them.
One other drawback is that the Toxicity Attribute Leaching Process—an EPA-approved methodology used to find out whether or not a product or materials incorporates hazardous parts that might leach into the surroundings—is understood to be defective. Consequently, some photo voltaic farm homeowners find yourself “over-managing” their panels as hazardous with out making a proper hazardous-waste dedication, Curtis stated. They find yourself paying extra to eliminate them in landfills permitted to deal with hazardous waste or to recycle them.
The Worldwide Vitality Company assessed whether or not photo voltaic panels that include lead, cadmium, and selenium would influence human well being if dumped in both hazardous-waste or municipal landfills and decided the danger was low. Nonetheless, the company stated in a 2020 report, its findings didn’t represent an endorsement of landfilling: Recycling, it said, would “additional mitigate” environmental issues.
NREL is presently finding out an alternate course of for figuring out whether or not or not panels are hazardous. “We have to determine that out as a result of it’s positively impacting the legal responsibility and the price to make recycling extra aggressive,” Curtis stated.
Regardless of these uncertainties, 4 states not too long ago enacted legal guidelines addressing PV module recycling. California, which has probably the most photo voltaic installations, permits panels to be dumped in landfills, however solely after they’ve been verified as non-hazardous by a delegated laboratory, which might value upwards of $1,500. As of July 2022, California had just one recycling plant that accepted photo voltaic panels.
In Washington state, a regulation designed to offer an environmentally sound technique to recycle PV panels is because of be applied in July of 2025; New Jersey officers anticipate to difficulty a report on managing PV waste this spring, and North Carolina has directed state environmental officers to review the decommissioning of utility scale photo voltaic tasks. (North Carolina presently requires photo voltaic panels to be disposed of as hazardous waste in the event that they include heavy metals like silver or—within the case of older panels—hexavalent chromium, lead, cadmium, and arsenic.)
Within the European Union, end-of-life photovoltaic panels have, since 2012, been handled as digital waste below the EU’s waste electrical and digital tools directive, often known as WEEE. The directive requires all member states to adjust to minimal requirements, however the precise fee of e-waste recycling varies from nation to nation, stated Marius Mordal Bakke, senior analyst for photo voltaic provider analysis at Rystad Vitality, a analysis agency headquartered in Oslo, Norway. Regardless of this regulation, the EU’s PV recycling fee is not any higher than the US fee—round 10 p.c—largely due to the problem of extracting priceless supplies from panels, Bakke stated.
However he predicted that recycling will develop into extra prevalent when the variety of end-of-life panels rises to the purpose the place it presents a enterprise alternative, offering recyclers with priceless supplies they’ll promote. Governments may also help pace that transition, he added, by banning the disposal of PV panels in landfills and offering incentives reminiscent of tax breaks to anybody who makes use of photo voltaic panels.
“Sooner or later sooner or later, you’re going to see sufficient panels being decommissioned that you just form of have to start out recycling,” Bakke stated. “It can develop into worthwhile by itself no matter commodity costs.”