Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have a long lifespan, with most panels lasting between 25 and 30 years before they begin to decrease in efficiency. But what happens when they finally lose their ability to produce AC electricity?

After around 3 decades, you’ll have to dispose of your solar panels. Luckily, solar panels are recyclable and are classed as e-waste under the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive).

We will walk you through the process of solar panels disposal, so you know how to recycle your solar panels when the time comes.

Reasons to Recycle Solar Panels

Along with the great savings that can be made on electricity bills with solar panels, one of the main reasons people opt to install a PV system is because of their positive impact on the environment.

Global warming is a great challenge facing the world, and people are increasingly more environmentally conscious with their everyday actions, decisions and lifestyle choices.

With solar panels, they are not only environmentally friendly during their long lifespan, but they can also be recycled when they no longer serve their purpose.

positive impact on the environment with PV system

The Best Way to Dispose of Solar Panels

The most eco-friendly to dispose of solar panels when they are ready to be retired is to recycle them.

In Ireland and the rest of the European Union, solar panels are considered e-waste (WEEE), and manufacturers are bound by EU law to ensure their products are not a burden on the environment, i.e, that they can be and are recycled.

The global value of disposable solar panel materials is expected to reach over €400 million in the next decade, which is equal to the amount needed for the raw materials for about €60 million solar panels.

Recycling solar panels is possible because many of the materials used in a solar panel can be recycled.

What materials can be recycled?

What can be recycled depends on the type of solar panel, but the overwhelming majority of solar panels in Ireland are silicon-based.

Glass makes up around three quarters of the weight of solar panels, and the glass recycling industry has been well established for many years. Other materials which constitute PV panels which can be recycled include copper wire, the junction box (plastic) and the aluminium frame.

Some of the other components of a solar panel system can also be recycled, including inverters and racking. Some recent studies on novel recycling technologies have reached a recycling efficiency rate of 96%.

Solar panels work by converting the sun's energy into electricity

The Solar Panel Recycling Process

There are different methods of recycling solar panels, and the end goal is to extract as many of the materials as possible. The first step of the recycling process is disassembling the constituent parts of the PV solar panels.

This means first removing the glass and the plastics which is done through a combination of chemical and mechanical processes. Upwards of 95% of the glass in a solar panel can be recycled, and the external metal components are also used for re-moulding cell frames.

The second stage involves heat, to extract the silicon which can then be reused. The recycling processes are constantly improving and being studied, with researchers examining the most efficient ways to recycle solar panels.

Who to Contact for Solar Panel Recycling

As mentioned, the best and most environmentally way of disposing of solar panels is to recycle them, but how is this done?

In most cases, you simply arrange for a solar panel recycling company to come to remove them, and they take them away to begin the recycling process.

These companies come to collect solar panels which need to be disposed of, in most cases, because they have reached the end of their lifespan. Damage, faults and upgrades are other reasons that they might need to be disposed of.

Can solar panels be restored?

In most cases where damage is the problem, you will not have to dispose of your solar panels as they can be restored or fixed.

Extreme weather and debris are the most common ways PV panels are damaged, but with proper solar panel maintenance, you shouldn’t have too many issues.

Modern solar panels are built to last for well beyond two decades, so with proper care, such as cleaning and removing twigs or small branches which could cause micro-cracks, you can rest assured that you will not need to restore or recycle your panels before their time.

solar panels do not break easily

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Michael Malone


Michael Malone is Solar Energy Editor at Energy Efficiency Ireland. He is committed to highlighting the benefits of solar PV for people across the island of Ireland, and is eager to clear up some misconceptions which linger among the Irish public regarding solar energy.

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