Can Solar Panels Be Recycled?

There are an ample amount of benefits associated with the installation of a solar panel system for homeowners: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving money, utilizing clean energy, and so much more. As an industry that prides itself on sustainability efforts, focusing on what to do with solar panels after their lifespan should be part of the conversation.

Currently, the recycling process for solar panels is not a huge area of interest due to the fact that most solar panel installations have occurred within the last 10 years — less than half the average expected lifespan of solar systems. However, this does not mean that ways to uphold sustainability efforts should be overlooked.

So, can they be recycled?

Yes. There are two main types of panels used today: crystalline-silicon solar panels and thin-film solar panels. Thin-film solar cells have been around for a much shorter period of time than crystalline-silicon solar cells (c-Si) and are less commonly used. Silicon solar modules are manufactured primarily of three main materials: glass, plastic, and aluminum. All three of these materials are recycled in mass quantities which allows for an easier recycling process for silicon-based panels. However, the process can be intricate and tedious:

  1. First, the aluminum frame is removed. This material is 100% reusable.
  2. Next, all glass is separated along the conveyor belt. This material is 95% reusable.
  3. A thermal processing at 500 degrees celsius is then started. This allows for the separation of small plastic components to occur and for an easier cell separation process.
  4. Last, silicon wafers are etched away and smelted in reusable slabs. 85% of this material is reusable.

Even with the 25 to 30 years that your solar system will benefit you and the environment, the long-term success of the industry will continue to benefit from recycling the raw materials used to produce solar panels. 

More about A.M. Sun Solar

A.M. Sun Solar is the local leader in custom solar solutions and installations on the Central Coast. For over 15 years, A.M. Sun Solar has provided high quality, cost efficient solar energy to residences and small businesses in San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. With a wide variety of financing solutions available, affordable pricing, custom solutions and complete installations from permit to interconnection, A.M. Sun Solar is the go to local solar company on the Central Coast. If you have any questions contact us today at (805) 457-4053 for more information.