According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar power is the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S. and this growth will continue to rise. At the moment, only a few states have adopted solar PV end-of-life handling policy requirements. Therefore, a lot of modules that have reached their end-of-life will end up in landfills. Early failures, catastrophic events, and system upgrades will compound waste management issues of end-of-life PV modules. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency finds a substantial increase in solar modules reaching their end-of-life in the 2020s and 2030s, with forecasts of 60 to 78 million cumulative tons of modules entering the waste streams globally by 2050.
Research by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) finds the design life of a PV module to be around 30 years. This does not account for early-loss failures which can occur through a range of factors including damages during the manufacturing process and transit, improper handling, and exposure to severe weather events. IRENA reports that most PV module waste today is due to early-loss scenarios and is estimated to contribute to more than 80% of the recycling market. The dramatic decline in PV equipment costs has also given system owners' opportunities to reevaluate the overall efficiency of systems, and many utility-scale and commercial and industrial plant owners are now “repowering” systems across the U.S. This is done by replacing modules to increase the systems overall performance and power ratings and extending the life of the system. NREL research has found that these lifetime estimations can happen as early as 10 years after the initial installation.
Governments and states are now beginning to see the overall value in end-of-life PV requirements for a circular economy. In 2012 the European Union’s Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment established PV module disposal and recycling guidelines. Extended-producer-responsibility principles are is at its core, holding the producers responsible for the recycling and treatment of end-of-life PV modules. Currently, there are no national U.S. requirements for end-of-life PV modules, however, ideas for national and state recycling programs have been evaluated. This seminar will include a panel discussion on barriers, policies, and sustainable opportunities for end-of-life PV modules.
- Amanda Cotton is the e-waste coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Cotton has been involved with toxicity reduction, pollution prevention and product stewardship at the agency for 12 years.
- Nancy Gillis is the CEO of the Green Electronics Council (GEC), a mission-driven non-profit that seeks to achieve a world of only sustainable ICT. GEC manages EPEAT, the leading global ecolabel for ICT and other electronic products. Before joining GEC, Nancy served as the Global Lead for Resilient and Responsible Supply Chains at Ernst & Young (EY). Prior to that, she served in the US Federal Government as the Director of the Federal Supply Chain Office at the General Services Administration (GSA), the public procurement agency for the US government. At GSA, Nancy was responsible for the inclusion of sustainability criteria in approximately $45B of procurements. Nancy received her graduate degree in Information Technology from Georgetown University.
- Garvin Heath is a Senior Scientist and leader of sustainability analysis at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. For the last 8 years he has led the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Task 12 (Sustainability) where the US has gained valuable insight and lessons from countries with more experience in recycling and the circular economy of PV modules. He led development of a PV recycling technology R&D Roadmap for the US Department of Energy, helped develop a new voluntary Sustainability Leadership Standard for PV Module manufacturing (including end of life management), and has been advising several U.S. states considering voluntary and regulatory responses to PV end of life management challenges.