Solar Module End-of-Life: Refurbishing and Recycling vs Landfilling

End of Life and Your Disposal Plan

Solar power has exploded in popularity in recent years.

While this explosion in the prevalence of solar has the potential to lower carbon levels, the disposal of old solar panels poses its own challenge.

When creating an end-of-life disposal plan for dealing with broken, damaged, or inefficient solar panels, most site managers generally consider one of three options:

Refurbishment, Recycling, or Landfilling.

It can be tempting to skip the expense that sometimes accompanies recycling, but refurbishment can greatly offset the costs associated. 

Landfilling VS Recycling and Refurbishing. 

There are several common situations when a site manager will need to dispose of old or damaged solar panels.

The most common include those modules that are damaged during construction, malfunction directly after installation, panels damaged by weather events (hurricane, tornado, fire, hail, etc.,) and those panels that lose their peak effectiveness after a few years of service. 

While refurbishment is obviously an attractive option, many site managers incorrectly assume that their damaged or old solar panels are not refurbishable.

However, most modules are still refurbishable as long as the glass is not cracked.

It’s almost always in your best interest to check if a panel is refurbishable. 

Harms of Landfilling 

Just dumping solar modules in a landfill may be tempting in the short run, but recycling and refurbishing is the correct economic, environmental, and legal decision in the long term.

Regulations for solar power continue to pass through legislatures, so it’s important for your company to have a disposal plan for your solar panels that will avoid potential EPA fines. 

In 2018, a well-known home improvement retailer was fined $28 million for unlawful disposal of “hazardous wastes.”

This is not an isolated incident: in the past decade alone, six of the top ten US retailers have been fined over $100 million for hazardous waste violations. 

Some solar panels consist of several heavy metals including lead, cadmium, copper, nickel, and tellurium.

If water runoff contained high enough concentrations of these materials, it could be deadly. 

While it’s tempting to think of solar power as an uncomplicated eco-friendly way to produce power, the reality is, like most issues, very complex.

[This study] (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0032-9) found that due to the cost of construction, on average, solar panels create around 6 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh generated over a lifetime of 25-30 years.

It takes around three years for solar panels to produce enough energy to offset the amount of energy needed to create them.

Refurbishing allows for the continued function and clean energy production of these panels.

With the relatively high cost of recycling, landfilling can be tempting.

However, the high costs of shipping and removing your panels can be offset by the money made from refurbishable panels if you do so.

As stated earlier in this article, many site managers are under the impression that malfunctioning, yet refurbishable panels, are little more than trash.

Remember, as long as the glass isn’t cracked, there’s a good chance the panel is refurbishable!

The Economic Sense and Cents in Refurbishing

If you decide to dispose of your panels instead of refurbishing, you can expect to pay for technicians to come out and uninstall your panels.

Then you can expect to pay for a disposal company to come out and load up your panels for transport to a landfill or to a recycling plant.

No matter what you include in your solar panel’s disposal plan, you can expect to pay a hefty sum to get rid of your old panels.

Shipping your panels to landfills or paying for recycling can be a significant percentage of the costs of running a utility site.

If you don’t include refurbishment options in your disposal plan, you’ll miss out on the potential offset provided by companies like FabTech.

Regardless of your choice, paying for the processing and shipment of your panels is expensive.

But unlike with landfilling, you can expect to receive money back for each panel that’s rated as refurbishable by our technicians, and be environmentally compliant.

The Refurbishing Process

FabTech has made its name in solar panel refurbishment.

We acquire our panels from a variety of sources, pass them through our rigorous refurbishment process, then resell them to a wide variety of customers.

FabTech’s experienced technicians run each individual panel through our inspection procedures. Panels are cleaned, tested, and inspected for wear.

Minor defects like bent frames, broken electrical boxes, or bad diodes are repaired by our trained technicians.

Each panel that passes this rigorous process is then cleared for reselling.

Creating your Disposal Plan?

Contact FabTech now to ensure you get the most money back from your older panels.

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