Minnesota planning for solar panel recycling

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Minnesota had installed 1,287 megawatts of solar as of the third quarter of 2019. That’s enough solar energy to power more than 179,000 homes according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Clean energy technologies are experiencing rapid growth thanks to increased demand, quickly declining costs and greater public awareness.

Deployment of photovoltaic solar panels in Minnesota and across the U.S. shows no signs of slowing. In an effort to prevent potential problems seen with other kinds of electronic waste (like stockpiling and improper disposal), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has begun researching and collecting input on how solar panel disposal should be managed.

Proactive planning has benefits

While most of the solar panels being installed today will have a lifespan of 20-30 years, it’s important to begin planning for the end-of-life of these materials now. Estimates from the International Renewable Energy Agency show Minnesota could have more than 6 million end-of-life solar panels (127,500 metric tons) by 2050. 

Life cycle management and developing a plan for recycling solar panels helps to conserve and protect the environment, while also minimizing potential costs or other barriers that could inhibit deployment of solar projects. Planning ahead can also establish better coordination across the product lifecycle, from the manufacturers that design solar panels, to companies whose business models are impacted by product changes, to recyclers and waste management providers who may innovate new potential end-uses for the product. This coordination is especially important as interest grows in circular economy systems, which are focused on recovering and regenerating materials for as long as possible.

Next steps

The MPCA developed a white paper on solar panel recycling and has held several informational webinars to learn about the materials and processes used by solar panel manufacturers, gather input from public and private research laboratories, and learn about the disposal management policies developed by other states. The discussion will resume in early 2020 and participation from companies across the solar industry is encouraged.

Please reach out to the MPCA’s electronics team if you would like access to the white paper or to be included on their distribution list. Please reach out to Lily Osborne if you have questions about the information included in this post.