Recycling Photovoltaic Panels: How It Works?

Recycling Photovoltaic Panels, known for their ability to convert Solar Radiation into electricity, is a crucial element of the transition toward an economy less dependent on fossil fuels. The spread of Photovoltaic Systems throughout the world has led to the urgent need to address the issue of disposal and recycling of Solar Panels

With the growing energy crisis and the increase in solar energy production, it, therefore, becomes essential to understand what photovoltaic panels are made of, how long they last, and How they can be managed responsibly even at the end of their life cycle.

Photovoltaic Panels: Duration and Disposal

Although the lifespan of a photovoltaic panel is around 25 years, the growing diffusion of systems throughout the world has brought the issue of photovoltaic panel disposal onto the list of priorities. These devices contain materials that require appropriate treatment at the end of their life cycle, and their disposal presents significant challenges. 

Photovoltaic Panels: Duration and Disposal

The main components of photovoltaic panels include glass, silicon cells, and metal structures. While some of these materials can be recycled and reused, others present critical issues. For example, complex plastics, present in small quantities in panels, are difficult to recycle and are often burned, generating a significant environmental impact. 

It is worth noting, however, that innovative solutions for eliminating solar panel disposal problems are quickly gaining traction in the industry. To date, the best photovoltaic panel recovery processes on the market allow recovery of up to 98% of the entire weight of the panel.

Photovoltaic modules fall into the category of “WEEE” (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), and are therefore subject to specific regulations regarding management and disposal.

Legislation in this field is based on the 2012 European Directive and the 2014 WEEE legislation. The reference legislation distinguishes two types of photovoltaic WEEE based on their power and, more specifically, there are: 

  • “Domestic” WEEE: Systems with a nominal power of less than 10 kW, which must be taken directly by the manufacturer to a WEEE Collection Center where they are subjected to a free disposal process.
  • “Professional” WEEE: these are systems with a nominal power of 10 kW or more and, for the latter, the rules to follow are more complex since the responsibility for the disposal of solar panels depends on the date of installation. For Systems Installed before 12 April 2014, the cost of disposal is borne by the owner, while for those installed after this date, the cost is borne by the manufacturer. To be disposed of correctly, these systems must be taken by the responsible person to an Authorized Treatment Plant.

The update of the legislation relating to the disposal of photovoltaic panels represents a significant step towards a more efficient and ecologically responsible management of these devices. The new operating instructions, identified by the directorial decree of 8 August 2022, n. 54, which implements the directives of Law 233/2021 (Converting Legislative Decree 152/2021), has introduced some important innovations in the field of disposal of solar panels incentivized in the Energy Account.

One of the most significant changes compared to the past concerns the timing and methods for joining a “Collective System” dedicated to the management and disposal of photovoltaic panels. This new approach aims to simplify and optimize the process of collecting and disposing of solar panels and encourages greater cooperation between the various actors involved, helping to reduce overall costs and improving the efficiency of recovery operations.

Another important aspect of the new operating instructions concerns the quota retained by the GSE (Electrical Services Manager) to guarantee disposal operations. This fee, set at €10 for each single photovoltaic panel, applies to both domestic and industrial systems. 

This retention mechanism serves to finance future disposal operations of solar panels, ensuring that these operations are managed in an appropriate and environmentally friendly manner. The refund of this fee occurs once the correct disposal of the systems has been demonstrated by the responsible party.

The updates in the regulation reflect the authorities’ growing commitment to promoting sustainable practices in the photovoltaic industry. Furthermore, they are designed to simplify and clarify the process of disposing of solar panels incentivized in the Energy Account, thus helping to ensure a more efficient and environmentally responsible energy transition.

It is essential that owners of photovoltaic systems are informed about the relevant regulations and that they follow the guidelines provided to ensure correct disposal of solar panels, to contribute to the efficiency of the entire system.

How Photovoltaic Panels are Recycled

How Photovoltaic Panels are Recycled

Recycling Photovoltaic Panels has become a crucial part of the sustainable management of these devices. The technologies and processes for recycling the materials contained in the panels are becoming increasingly advanced and efficient, allowing the recovery of most materials. In this regard, it is possible to state that from an average Photovoltaic Panel, weighing approximately 22 kg, it is possible to recover on average:

  • 0.1 kg of Electrical Boards
  • 0.2 kg of Metals
  • 1.7 kg of Plastic
  • 2.8 kg of Silicon
  • 2.9 kg of Aluminium
  • 13.8 kg of Glass.

The Photovoltaic Panel Recycling Process can be Divided into Different Phases:

  • Identification and Selection: First, it is necessary to identify the panels that can still be used or that can be recycled. This step is essential to maximize material recovery;
  • Dismantling: The panels are dismantled to separate the different components. That process involves the removal of glass, silicon cells, and other parts;
  • Extraction of Raw Materials: After disassembly, the raw materials are extracted and prepared for recycling through specific treatments;
  • Reuse of Solar Panels and New Life: The recovered raw materials can be used in various sectors, from glass which is used in the ceramic and construction industries to silicon used for the production of insulating materials. Aluminum and copper can instead be used in many industrial sectors.

As already mentioned, it is worth underlining that the recycling process also includes the treatment of the plastics contained in the modules (if present), which often represent a problem for the disposal of solar panels.

The Advantages of Recovering Photovoltaic Panels

The recovery of photovoltaic panels and the recycling of module construction materials offer numerous advantages, both from an environmental and economic point of view. Among the benefits of photovoltaic panel recycling operations stand out:

Reduction of Environmental Impact: 

The recycling of materials contained in solar panels reduces the use of natural resources and limits the environmental impact linked to the extraction of new raw materials. Furthermore, it helps to avoid the release of harmful substances into the environment due to the module production process; 

Conservation and Reuse of Materials:  

Recovery of materials such as glass, silicon, and aluminum allows us to conserve precious resources and reduce dependence on mineral extraction. This aspect becomes crucial in a context in which natural resources are increasingly limited and precious.

Creation of Secondary Markets:  

the raw materials recovered through the recycling of photovoltaic panels can be used in different industrial sectors, creating secondary markets for these materials and promoting the circularity of the economy.

Cost Savings: 

Recycling materials can reduce production costs for new photovoltaic panels, thus helping to keep prices competitive for consumers. 

In conclusion, recycling not only helps reduce environmental impact but also allows us to maximize the use of existing resources, promoting a more sustainable and responsible energy future.

With the solar energy market growing, it is necessary to promote recycling as an integral part of the adoption of solar panels for electricity production, resolutely tackling the challenges of disposal in an innovative and sustainable way.

If you are looking for a company expert in the installation and maintenance of Photovoltaic Systems, rely on Sorgenia. Our team is made up of highly qualified and competent professionals, ready to guide you through every step of the process, from assembly to post-purchase assistance. Thanks to the personalized offer, you will be able to benefit from a high-quality system designed to meet your energy needs.

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