Solar panels are an increasingly popular environmentally friendly source of energy.
Generating electricity from the sun alone, solar panels, or photovoltaic panels, can cut the cost of your energy bills and, in some cases, you may even get paid for generating energy!
However, as with all ‘green’ energy solutions, solar panels come with potential issues, one of which is recycling. Without proper waste management, this energy source could compound the growing, global problem of excess waste.
Can solar panels be recycled?
The short answer is yes. In fact, solar panel waste is prohibited from being dumped into landfill in the UK. So, what is the typical lifetime of a solar panel, and how does solar panel recycling work?
How long do solar panels last?
How long solar panels last depend on a range of factors. Most solar panels used for residential purposes come with a warranty of between 25 and 30 years. This does not mean that a solar panel will necessarily stop working as soon as its warranty period expires.
Most will go on generating electricity, though that little bit less efficiently year-on-year. Some panels have been known to keep on going for nearly 40 years! Solar panel life expectancy, therefore, varies. You may well find that yours lasts well beyond its ‘best before’ date.
An average solar panel, however, will lose about 10% of its efficiency in the first 10 years, and 20% by the time it’s 25 years old.
Can they be recycled when they are decommissioned?
In a word, yes. Moreover, they should be. The UK Environmental Agency requires that the disposal of solar panels fulfil certain legal requirements and standards since all solar panels contain small amounts of toxic waste.
This is not to say that solar panel recycling is a uniform process irrespective of type or make. There are two main types of solar panels, and they require different recycling methods.
Silicone-based panels, which the most common ones, are physically disassembled, with almost all of the glass and metal parts re-used, and the remaining parts heat-treated and eventually used to produce new silicone.
Thin-film based panels, on the other hand, are shredded and separated into solids and liquids. The eventual products of this process are reusable glass and semiconductor material.
Recycling solar panels is a very efficient, well-organised process that has clearly definable benefits to the environment and the economy; it is estimated that by 2050, solar panels will have a recoverable value of £11 billion.
How can I make my solar panels last longer?
Generally speaking, solar panels are robust and built to last. They require little maintenance beyond routine cleaning. Dust and debris that will inevitably collect on top of the panels can make them less efficient in the long run, so a simple hose clean, if performed regularly, can prolong top performance.
But do take care not to spray them with cold water when they are hot, as this may cause cracks!
The best times for cleaning are morning and evening; rainy days are even better – they’re nature’s own cleaning service! If your solar panels are too high up for you to clean them comfortably, local professional cleaning services are easily available almost everywhere.