Minnesota planning for solar panel recycling

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Minnesota has installed 1,287 megawatts of solar as of the third quarter of 2019. That’s enough solar 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 solar photovoltaic (PV) in Minnesota and across the U.S. shows no signs of slowing. In an effort to head off 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 PV panel disposal should be handled.

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 using data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show Minnesota could have more than 6 million end-of-life solar PV panels (127,500 metric tons) by 2050. 

Planning for end-of-life helps conserve and protect the environment, while also minimizing potential costs or other barriers that could hamper solar PV deployment. Planning ahead can also establish better coordination across the product lifecycle, from manufactures who design the 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 the circular economy, which is focused on recovering and regenerating materials for as long as possible.)

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

Please reach out to Lily Osborne if you have questions about the information included in this post. 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.