ISTC Sustainability Seminar: Looking Ahead at Solar Panel Recycling in Illinois

Sep 6, 2018   12:00 – 1:00 pm
Conference room at ISTC – 1 Hazelwood Dr in Champaign or online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8322510666999858689

Speakers: Nancy Holm, Assistant Director, and Jennifer Martin, Environmental Program Development Specialist, both from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The new Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act which went into effect on June 1, 2017, now requires an updated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Illinois. This new RPS directs that solar energy use be expanded across the state, increasing Illinois’ solar capacity from about 75 MW to about 2,700 MW by 2030. With these new requirements for increased solar installations, there will be a critical need to examine the disposal and recycling or repurposing of used and broken solar panels to ensure protection of the environment and also to explore the economic benefits of recycling/repurposing solar panels in the state.

As the solar energy industry continues to grow in the state as well as nationally and globally, there is a looming waste management issue at the end-of-life of these panels. The design life of a solar panel is roughly 20 – 30 years. Given this, it is estimated that there will be a surge in solar panel disposal in the early 2030s, and by 2050, there will be 60 to 78 million cumulative tons of solar panel waste globally.  Some countries, particularly in Europe, have established recycling networks. However, in the U.S. we are just beginning to develop a network of recyclers and, as yet, there is not a strong recycling infrastructure in place in Illinois. These used or broken solar panels should be properly recycled to prevent toxic compounds from leaching into the environment, as well as to avoid disposal of valuable and finite resources into landfills.

ISTC is working with the IL EPA, Solar Energy Industry Association, IL Solar Energy Association, and other entities to create awareness around these issues, as well as establish the necessary policy and standards required to build a network of solar panel recyclers in Illinois. Details on solar panel waste and recycling will be discussed in this presentation.

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