Closing the Loop on PV

  August 30, 2016

By Naomi Millán

The growing adoption of solar photovoltaic (PV) around the world brings about the question of how to sustainably decommission those systems when they reach the end of their 30-year lifespan.

Global installed PV capacity reached 222 GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to further rise to 4,500 GW by 2050, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). By 2050, PV panel waste worldwide, which would be mainly glass, could total 78 million tons, according to a report from IRENA and the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS). The potential to recycle this material into new panels or sell it into commodity markets could represent "a significant untapped business opportunity," says IRENA.

The report suggests that adequate infrastructure to address PV waste would require PV-specific waste regulation, modifying waste management infrastructure, and continued innovation in panel waste management — all of which take significant time.

The European Union has PV-specific waste regulations, which include avenues to collect and recycle the panels at end of life. In most countries outside the EU, PV panels currently are considered "general waste."

The IRENA report, End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, can be downloaded here.

This Quick Read was submitted by Naomi Millán, senior editor of Building Operating Management magazine, To learn more about photovoltaics on roofs go to


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