The first generation of solar panels in use on homes and other buildings will soon be too old to work anymore. Owners will need to replace them.
But, what can be done with the old equipment, aside from adding it to waste landfills?
Adam Saghei in the U.S. state of Arizona hopes he has the answer.
He is the leader of a business called We Recycle Solar.
He said most solar panels last about 30 years. So many of the first panels put to use in America are reaching the end of their usefulness. Most will go to landfills, he said.
However, his company, and a few others, are working to collect old panels and make them useful again.
He said the process is part of what he called “the circular economy.”
“(Solar) is a sustainable form of energy; there needs to be a plan for the retirement of those assets," he said.
For example, Saghei said many of the panels that fail only have a small problem. Often it can be easily fixed. Then, the repaired piece can be offered in new markets, often in other countries.
Saghei said the company’s engineers learned how to recover valuable material from the old solar panels. They can remove silver, copper, glass, and silicone from the broken panels. All the materials have market value.
It took the engineers three years to perfect the materials recovery process, which Saghei called “urban mining.”
The company can process up to 7,500 solar panels every day at its center in Yuma. Saghei said they can recover up to 99 percent of the useful material from each panel.
Meng Tao is a professor at Arizona State University and an expert on sustainable energy systems.
He said solar panel installations will reach their highest numbers in about 20 years. At that point, he said, the number of new panels being produced will equal the number of old panels going out of service. The cost to recycle the old panels, however, may be too high.
At that point, he said, it will be very easy for homeowners to decide to send their panels to a landfill. But the U.S. government, he said, should provide money for solar panel recycling projects as part of its environmental policies.
That way, making a better choice will be easier for homeowners.
Saghei said he hopes his company is getting into the business at the right time. Recovering the materials from old panels is costly work. He said it takes a lot of labor, time and energy.
But he thinks taking out the valuable materials and sending them back into the supply chain is a winning idea.
“These are markets that are growing,” Saghei said. “What’s exciting is we’re at the forefront.”
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by AFP.
Words in This Story
sustainable—adj. used to describe something that can be produced without depleting a resource such as coal
asset –n. an item that has value
exciting –adj. pleasurable or interesting
forefront—n. in first place or among the first to do something
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