Recycling and Solar Panels

No-one knows how long a solar panel should last – currently, some are over 30 years old and still working well. However, it is anticipated that an increasing number will need to be replaced. In today’s worldwide drive to save energy wherever possible, it would be better to recycle.

Most of the material used in a solar panel could be reused and recycled, for example aluminium, silicon, glass and other specialist products. However, some materials cannot be recycled and may even harbour high toxicity potential – silicon by-products are an example of this. While many of the industrial processes associated with these products, for example mining or aluminium and silicon and the manufacture of glass, the overall carbon footprint could be reduced by recycling.

In recent years, there have been a number of initiatives to ensure optimum recycling in various industries, for example, the WEEE directive covering take back of electrical and electronic products. The recycling of solar panels is one of the more recent initiatives and a European organisation called PV Cycle has been established to fill this gap. Industry acceptance of such schemes can be difficult so it is notable that the biggest maker of solar panels in the world (Suntech, a Chinese company) has joined up with PV Cycle.

It is hoped that manufacturers of solar panels can work together to develop effective policies for recycling and waste management, within the twin constraints of economic and environmental responsibility.

Although multinational, PV Cycle is a European initiative. There is no equivalent organisation in Australia, other western countries appearing to prefer a voluntary approach.

About Finn Peacock

I'm a Chartered Electrical Engineer, Solar and Energy Efficiency nut, dad, and founder of My last "real job" was working for the CSIRO in their renewable energy division.


  1. Tyler Plowright says

    To whom it may concern,
    I am a student at the University of Newcastle and am currently undertaking a project where a Life Cycle Analysis must be conducted on solar panels.

    I was wondering if you could tell me how much embodied energy is in a solar panel/how much energy it takes to produce a solar panel?

    I was also wondering if you could tell me how much energy you save by recycling solar panels? If you can’t tell me this would you be able to tell me how much of each material is in each solar panel (i.e. 2kg aluminum, 1kg glass etc – I can work out savings from this information).

    Figures don’t need to be for specific solar panels, just in general.

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