Can Solar Panels be Recycled?


One of our recent solar panel installations in Colorado

Everyone knows that renewable energy is good for the environment.  Why? Because it can be used over and over again. Unlike coal and oil, there is an unlimited amount of sun and wind, so harnessing the power of these naturally occurring sources is the key to a truly sustainable power model.  What we use to capture this electricity, however, is just as important.


Recently in the news, wind energy has been getting a bad rap.  Waste is becoming a problem, as used and defective windmill blades are piling up in junkyards around the country.  These 100 to 300 foot blades are not only difficult to transport, but are made of a mix of fiberglass and resin which cannot be easily recycled.  Solutions, such as grinding the blades into morsels to be used for decking materials, pallets, and piping are currently being explored.


Obviously, parallels can be made to the solar industry.  As panels are being deployed and installed at an exponential rate, many people wonder if there is a plan in place to keep solar electricity production sustainable.  Thankfully, in addition to a lifespan of 40 years, most of the materials in solar panels can be recycled.


What is a solar panel made of?

Solar panels are made up primarily of glass, plastic, and aluminium:  three materials of which massive amounts are being recycled everyday.  Although it is true that in order to separate these materials from each other, decommissioning solar panels does require additional energy use.  This extra power requirement is a small price to pay as it prevents the solar panels from spending the rest of their days in a landfill.


What about the silicon inside the solar panels?

Silicon is the element that makes solar electricity possible, and is the second most occurring resource on the planet after oxygen.  Despite its prevalence, recycling the material is possible as approximately 85% of the silicon wafers can be reused when separated from the rest of the materials.


What if solar panels aren’t recycled properly?

Unfortunately, just because solar panels are recyclable doesn’t mean that they will be recycled.  Anyone can throw plastic into a river, rather than the recycling bin. As much as we’d like to forget Colorado’s own Abound Solar toxic waste clean up, it serves a reminder that a conscious effort towards environmental sustainability is crucial in navigating the future of energy.  In fact, Washington became the first state to mandate solar product stewardship for panels produced instate.


At Apollo Energy, we are a privately owned solar company in Denver, focused on the sustainability of our community. If you’re looking for more information about solar energy, please contact one of our solar experts at www.harnessoursun.com