According to a new research study, released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), your old solar modules will be worth $15 billion in recyclable material by the year 2050. This potential material influx could produce 2 billion new panels. IRENA estimates that PV panel waste, comprised mostly of glass, could total 78 million tonnes globally. This end of life recycling ability will help finance future solar growth, and – more importantly – when combined with current industry recyclability at 96% (goal of 100%) will mean that solar power has, beyond a doubt, environmental credibility.

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Prices of solar power are falling and industry growth is at astounding rates. With this, the field is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs – but also, at a rate of about 50 lbs per standard 72 cell commercial solar panel, creating a future waste challenge. If solar power is to be a true environmental benefit to the planet – then it cannot become a landfill permanent resident. Current techniques, led by organizations like PV CYCLE – the world’s first waste management program for all types of PV technologies, are able to achieve a 96% recycling rate in real-world performance. Their aim is to increase those rates to 100%. IRENA’s study has shown that if we can in fact reach those goals – we will have created a $15 billion opportunity by the time these solar modules need replacing in thirty years.

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“Global installed PV capacity reached 222 GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to further rise to 4,500 GW by 2050. With this tremendous capacity growth will come an increase in waste associated with the sector,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This brings about new business opportunities to ‘close the loop’ for solar PV panels at the end of their lifetime. To seize these opportunities, however, preparations for the surge in end-of-life material should begin now. With the right policies and enabling frameworks in place, new industries that recycle and repurpose old solar PV panels will drive considerable economic value creation and will be an important element in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”

222GW of solar power is installed globally as of the end of 2015 – 85% of it has been installed in the last 5 years. That means in about 30 years – we will start seeing a wave of growth in solar system replacements/recycling. The value is expected to be greater than $450 million in material. Glass makes up about 70% of the solar panel. The highly recyclable aluminum frame is the second highest component at 18%.

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