The solar industry will not a clean power source if there are leftovers of hazardous waste. Due to a lack of proper recycling policy, the US plans to send so many solar modules and a lot of toxics to landfill in the future years. However, Recycle PV Solar is a new initiative that is ready to handle this problem. In 2020, it was a difficult year for the US solar industry due to climate change concerns. The industry growth has slowed down but not as a result of Trump-era imports tariffs or the Covid-19 pandemic. The residential solar markets and utility-scale are facing rapid economic growth and solar modules deployed are not stable.
One disadvantage of solar panels is that recycling them is costly and difficult, and they are withdrawn from use in large numbers. The European Union has PV module installers that cater to electronic waste and urge solar manufacturers to recycle them. Japan has project developers who are held accountable for waste disposal. But there is a big gap as far as US solar recycling and PV modules’ treatment is concerned. Currently, the states are the ones that are handling solar panel recycling. For instance, Washington state, which is governed by Governor Jay Inslee, has a takeback and PV module stewardship program. The program advocates that by 2022 July, all PV module manufacturers should submit their recycling plan. The program’s full implementation is likely to be pushed back following recommendations from industry and environmental groups.
Among the many US solar producers, only Fist Solar has come up with in-house recycling capabilities. This recycling initiative is funded by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), together with five other recycling partners.
The landfill is not green
Under normal circumstances, in a module, aluminium frames and cables are plucked out, and the rest is thrown into a landfill. Solar module glass is the major component in the solar module, and it is easily recovered. However, its value is very low, and since glass has metal, applying it for second-use is so limited. The most valuable materials, like copper, silver, and silicon, are not recycled in the United States. In late 2019, Recycle PV Solar (RPVS) initiative was formed in partnership with the Europe-based PV Cycle to find a lasting solution to these issues. Sam Vanderhoof, the CEO and a solar industry veteran, said that he is part of and the puzzle of the problem, and he will ensure he has deployed millions of solar panels. He urged his colleagues in the solar industry to follow suit.