Do the environmental impacts of manufacturing solar panels outweigh the benefits? What about recycling?

It’s a common belief that solar panels can’t be recycled, but that’s not true.


KEY POINTS
  • Solar power has seen record growth over the past decade.
  • With all of those panels popping up across rooftops and open areas, what happens when it comes time to replace them?
  • It’s a common belief that solar panels can’t be recycled, but that’s not true. Matt Ferrel explains:

Take a step back and you can see how quickly things are shifting in favor of renewable energy generation. In the last decade, solar has seen a 49 percent average annual growth in the U.S.

With this rapid growth, what is the environmental cost?

Solar panels are made up of components like silicon, metal framing, glass sheets, wires, and Plexiglas. Nothing particularly shocking, but during the manufacturing stage there are a lot of different types of chemicals used to clean and purify the semiconductor surface. These chemicals take a lot of care when handling and need to be disposed of properly, but their cost gives manufacturers a big financial incentive to recycle and reuse them whenever possible.

It’s a common belief that solar panels can’t be recycled, but that’s not true. 80% of a typical solar panel is glass and aluminum, which are easy to recycle. There are some heavy metals that have to be extracted too, but we’re capable of recycling them.

The EU has been more aggressive in its solar recycling and end-of-life policies than the US. They’ve defined solar panels as e-waste, which puts them under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. This requires solar manufacturers to meet certain recycling standards, which has created a marketplace for panel recyclers.

When you take the full picture of solar into account from cost to manufacturing and disposal, it’s undeniable that solar is a dramatic improvement over fossil fuel forms of energy generation. There’s a good reason why so many people, companies, and governments are pushing into solar energy.

This video was produced and published by Matt Ferrel. It was originally published on his YouTube channel “Undecided with Matt Ferrell.” It has been published here via partnership.

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