Millions of solar panels are reaching the end of their lifespan, but with no adequate recycling infrastructure in place to deal with them, an environmental disaster is looming. This is Money has more on the potential polluting consequences of solar energy.
Tonnes of solar panels could end up on the scrap heap unless the Government acts now, experts have warned.
There are around 25 million solar panels in the U.K. and 2.5 billion globally. …
But as the first generation of solar panels are expected to die off in the coming years, experts have warned that many could end up in landfill rather than recycled because of a drastic lack of infrastructure.
Currently, there is only one recycling plant in the whole of the U.K. that specialises in recycling solar panels but this is a small operation in Scunthorpe.
However, the company is currently only stockpiling the panels and when they have “enough stock” then they will “invest in the equipment to recycle them”, a spokesman told MailOnline, adding that it was “early days in the industry”.
The only place in the entire world that will recycle solar panels on an industrial scale is the first Return of Silicon Plant (ROSI) in France, which was due to open last month.
At the moment, the number of dead solar panels is only a small scale.
But the first generation of solar panels is forecast to die within the next five or ten years and according to Professor Chris Sansom at the University of Derby, by 2050 we could have 300 million tonnes of scrap panels globally.
For comparison, the world currently produces a similar amount of plastic waste each year.
Currently, almost all photovoltaic (PV) panel waste goes into landfill and only very small numbers are recycled by labour-intensive and expensive means as they must be taken apart by hand, the professor added.
Speaking to the MailOnline, he clarified: “Well, I think I think it’s probably true to say that scrap panels at the moment do end up in landfill but there hasn’t been that many of them to be honest.
“The panels that people are putting on their homes and have put on their homes in the last five or 10 years, whatever it is, will still be there because they last for at least 20 years and possibly even 30 years.
“If they fail, whatever the reason, then they probably have gone to landfill but there’s a big question there about what to do because we can’t carry on doing that. So, there is a big issue.”
A 2016 joint report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS) conducted the first projection of PV panel waste volumes to 2050.
The report said that given the surge of solar panel deployment since 2010 and average lifetime and failure rates for panels, waste volumes are “certain to increase more rapidly after 2030”.
Europe is predicted to be the second largest solar panel waste market with projected waste of up to three million by 2030.
Asia will remain the largest waste producer with projections of up to 3.5 million accumulated waste, according to the report.
While the report said there is a huge potential for economic revenue for the disposal of PVs because of the valuable materials and the birth of a new industry, there is little sign that much action is currently being taken.
In 2018, a senior Chinese solar official and research scientist with the German Stuttgart Institute for Photovoltaics, warned that solar panel disposal “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment”.
He also warned that there will be a huge amount of waste as they are not easy to recycle, adding: “The reality is that there is a problem now, and it’s only going to get larger, expanding as rapidly as the PV industry expanded 10 years ago.”
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