Solar panels have come a long way. Recycling them has not


Mike De Socio

Over the past five years, it’s become more likely to see solar panels blanketing a field or shimmering on a rooftop near you. The industry grew by 33 percent each year on average over the last 10 years, with cumulative solar installations nearly doubling in the last five.

That growth will almost certainly accelerate thanks to a big boost in funding from the federal climate bill, which directs $30 billion toward renewable energy over the next decade.
But what will happen when these photovoltaic panels reach the end of their useful life, 25-30 years in the future? Interest in the panel-recycling question has grown alongside the rise in solar installations, but experts say the industry for solar panel collection and disassembly is still nascent and not evenly distributed across the U.S. And the options for reuse and refurbishment — the more sustainable of the circular economy strategies — are even less accessible.

Making solar panel recycling more commonplace will require a mix of technological advances, economic incentives and smart policies at the state and federal levels.

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