Photovoltaic panels recycling: disposal

Photovoltaic panels recycling: disposal and what happens

That of the recycling of photovoltaic panels and their simultaneous disposal, is a doubt that often assails consumers, when they are about to install a renewable plant to power their homes.

These systems are not in fact eternal and, at the end of their life cycle, they must be replaced with new solutions. But when to make the change, how does it happen disposal of old panels and, above all, is it possible to reduce one’s environmental impact by taking advantage of recycling?

In recent decades, photovoltaics have found a strong push within the domestic market. The possibility of producing energy independently, and also being able to take advantage of important incentives for the installation of systems, has convinced more and more families to make themselves as independent as possible from an energy point of view.

So many people are already faced with the need to update the old system, without knowing how to move. Here is some useful information.

Photovoltaic panels: when they need to be changed

As already mentioned at the beginning, the duration of photovoltaic panels it is not infinite. As with any other technology developed by man, these instruments are subject to wear and loss of their efficiency, so much so that they have to be replaced over time.

Ma how long does a photovoltaic system last? There is no single answer to this question, since much depends on the quality of the materials used for its construction, the type of exposure to atmospheric agents and the development of the system itself.

Generally, manufacturers estimate about 15 years of use before production efficiency falls below thresholds that prevent domestic needs from being met. But in reality, the timing seems to be longer, as field surveys show an average 6% drop in efficiency 20 years after the first installation.

Having said this, when is it necessary to replace a photovoltaic system?

  • Damages: photovoltaic panels can break down in their electrical or electronic components or be damaged by atmospheric phenomena such as particularly violent hailstorms;
  • Reduction of production: the closer they get to the end of their life cycle, the less the photovoltaic panels will be able to produce energy. In fact, it will be possible to notice a slowdown at the level of the incoming meters. Furthermore, there could be a greater demand for energy from the grid than usual, even in favorable weather conditions, such as fully sunny days;
  • Expansions: if you decide to expand your photovoltaic system, for example by increasing its power from 3 to 6 KW, it may be advisable to replace the existing panels to mount new, more efficient ones. In fact, solar technologies run fast and, after a few years, it will be possible to take advantage of greater capacities for the same space occupied, at increasingly reduced prices.

Disposal of photovoltaic panels

Photovoltaic panels

When you decide to replace a photovoltaic system, the first question that arises is always the same: how the disposal takes place? To whom should the old panels be delivered, are there any specific needs?

All questions that could give rise to legitimate concerns, however that are answered in the law.

What the regulations provide

Solar panel replacement

At the regulatory level, photovoltaic panels are considered gods WEEE waste, like any other electrical or electronic device. They must therefore be disposed of correctly, relying on their own WEEE waste collection centers, thus reducing environmental costs. But what does the legislation provide?

Italy first of all implemented the European Directive 2008/98 / ECwhich provides that the responsibility for the disposal of photovoltaic panels is paid by the manufacturerwhich will insert the waste treatment costs already in the initial price of the plant.

After that, the Fourth and Fifth Energy Bill of 2014 included the European Directive 2012/12 / UE, which provides for different scenarios for disposal and recycling. Essentially:

  • For produced panels before April 2014, the disposal cost is theoretically borne by the owner. However, the model provides for the possibility of “one-on-one” withdrawal: that is, when the new plant is purchased, the treatment costs can be transferred to the new producer;
  • For produced panels after April 2014the cost of disposal is fully borne by the manufacturer.

In addition to this, it is necessary to evaluate the use and power of the system at your disposal:

  • Domestic systems up to 10 KW: must be delivered to the WEEE collection centers for proper disposal, the costs will be borne by the producers;
  • Industrial plants over 10 KW: must always be managed by WEEE collection centers, costs and disposal responsibilities may vary between owners and producers.

Recycling of photovoltaic panels

Photovoltaic on the roof

The disposal of photovoltaic panels and delivery to the appropriate collection centers is only the first step in the management of this waste. While not everyone is aware of it, these tools guarantee great possibilities for recycling: they can be used for other purposes or, again, disassembled to recover as many materials as possible.

Immediate recycling: the second-hand market

The first possibility of recycling is that relating to second-hand market. As a rule, the purchase and exchange takes place between private individuals – therefore, after the disassembly of the plant, the transfer of the panels to the WEEE center does not take place – however there are also companies specialized in WEEE treatment that deal with resale. But when can a panel be reused?

  • When it has been replaced by the original owner for updating the system or for efficiency no longer commensurate with his needs. In this case, with the help of technicians and expert personnel, it is necessary to evaluate whether theefficiency offer is more than enough for your needs;
  • Per minor needssuch as, for example, systems that only support the supply to the network, such as a small power of up to 800 Watts installed on the balcony;
  • To feed holiday homeshuts, small warehouses for family use and all other situations where energy needs are not high.

Component recycling

Sand and silicon

In all other cases, the photovoltaic panels can be recycled through the disassembly and the separation of their components, to recover precious materials both for the production of new photovoltaic instruments and for other purposes.

What materials are recovered from the panels

Ma what materials are recovered from photovoltaic panels? And how are they recycled?

  • Glass: it is the heaviest material present in the panels, so much so that it also determines 70% of the weight. With a delamination process, it is separated from the silicon parts and electronic components and reused in the construction sector, for the production of new glass or for the creation of ceramics. From a single panel of about 25 kilograms it is possible to obtain up to 14 kilograms of glass;
  • Aluminum: it is usually present on the frames of photovoltaic panels and on their supports. It can be easily separated from the other components and is recyclable practically indefinitely. About three kilos are gained for each panel;
  • Silicon: it is one of the most widespread minerals on Earth and also one of the main of solar panels, as it contributes to the production of energy. About 2.8 kilograms are obtained per panel, which are then used for the production of insulating glass materials;
  • Plastic: unfortunately also the photovoltaic panels have some plastic components, about 1.7 kilos of the total, which can however be recycled for the production of new plastic materials;
  • Rare metals and electronic boards: indispensable for the operation of the electrical and electronic part of plants, rare metals – such as indium, gallium and tellurium – are usually recovered for use in other electronic applications. After the separation of these metals, the electronic boards are disposed of as common WEEE waste.

Today the recycling process can take advantage of cutting-edge technologies and optimizations achieved over the years, which have guaranteed good efficiency, also taking into consideration the energy needs due to all the phases of separation and recovery of suitable materials.

As easy to see, almost all components can find a second life, confirming the reduced environmental impact of this renewable technology.


Source: GreenStyle by www.greenstyle.it.

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