Presented by 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. Presentation slides are available here.
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 average lifespan of a panel is 30 years. Given this, the International Renewable Energy Agency 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.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Solar Energy Industry Association, Illinois 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.