- A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency's Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme projects the market for recycling solar photovoltaic (PV) panels could be worth $15 billion by 2050.
- IRENA estimates there could be up to 78 million metric tons of PV waste by 2050. China and the United States are expected to generate the most waste, followed by Japan, India, and Germany.
- The average solar panel has a 30-year lifespan. The report recommends planning for collection and recycling systems now to be ready for the future influx.
According to IRENA, there were 222 gigawatts (GW) of PV capacity at the end of 2015 and that could grow to 4,500 GW by 2050. The majority of this waste will be glass. If handled properly, 2 billion new PV panels could be built out of recycled material in the future.
The challenge now is preparing to handle all of this material because PV recycling is still expensive. Arizona-based First Solar has been exploring the use of mobile recycling units that could process old panels directly at power plants and cut back on high transportation costs. The IRENA report also points to the European Union's specific regulations and extended producer responsibility system as a good framework. Most other countries currently classify PV panels as "general waste."
While the waste industry has embraced the use of solar panels to generate energy at landfills and power some street collection bins, recycling them hasn't become a priority yet. If this report's estimates are correct, that relatively untapped field will provide many opportunities for businesses willing to make the investment and be patient.