Solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment has grown at unprecedented rates since the early 2000s. As the global PV market increases, so will the volume of decommissioned PV panels, and large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, at the end of 2016 cumulative global PV waste streams amounted to between 43,500-250,000 metric tons. By 2050 cumulative worldwide PV waste is expected to reach 60-78 million metric tons.
Growing PV panel waste presents a new environmental challenge, but also unprecedented opportunities to create value. Recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifespan can unlock raw materials and other valuable components. To unlock the benefits of such PV end-of-life industries, an institutional groundwork must be laid in time to meet the expected surge in panel waste.
The EU has adopted solar panels specific waste regulations that require 80% recovery and 75% recycling rate of solar panels waste. In 2016, European photovoltaics association PV Cycle developed a process that claims to achieve a 96 percent recycling rate for silicon-based panels (the majority of the global market). Non-silicon-based PV panels can have a recovery rate of up to 98 percent.
However, most countries around the world still classify solar panels as general or industrial waste. Sectors like PV recycling will be essential in the world’s transition to a sustainable, economically viable and increasingly renewables-based energy future. Policy action is needed to address the challenges ahead, with enabling frameworks being adapted to the needs and circumstances of each region or country.
Developing an End-of-life (EoL) management scheme for solar PV panel waste requires favourable conditions and factors, including high collection and recovery rates, recycling targets, as well as clear policy and regulations to stimulate the market. It will also require building the necessary infrastructure to efficiently manage the recycling of these materials.
In this context, the EU-GCC Clean Energy Technology Network and the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat General (GCC SG) in partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) are organising discussion webinar entitled “Recycling solar PV panels; Challenges and opportunities” which will take place on 2 March 2021 at 3:00 pm GST, 12:00 pm CET.
The online workshop aims to achieve the following main objectives:
- Build a common understanding of the recycling solutions for PV panels, opportunities for resource and economic efficiency as well as increasing the security of future raw material supply.
- Exchange information on the initiatives that have been developed in the GCC and EU and inform about lessons learnt and business models.
- Discuss opportunities for strengthening EU-GCC collaboration between national and regional initiatives in supporting the concrete implementation of recycling solutions including capacity building, R&D and Innovation as well as awareness raising.