Got Junk?

Published January 16, 2022

Most people haven’t given much thought to what will happen to the millions – if not billions – of solar panels that are being installed around the world when their useful life is over. On occasion, someone will ask. In fact, on our very first sales call with E3 the business owner said she didn’t support solar and questioned where all the panels go to die.

I haven’t found much written about the disposing or recycling of solar panels, but recently New Hampshire has taken some action. A bill was introduced that would require solar manufacturers to be responsible for the end of their product’s useful life.

In the tradition of government, I’m not sure New Hampshire has thought the problem through, but its concern it warranted. If we make the manufacturers responsible, where does it end? Should we make every manufacturer responsible for disposing of every product they produce? Some environmentalists may think that’s a good idea. Yet it doesn’t sound terribly practical.  

That’s not to say that the manufacturers shouldn’t be thinking about ways to better dispose of their product. However, the reality is that solar manufacturers are limited in what they can do. Solar panels require certain types of material to work. It’s not as if you’re all of a sudden going to switch to recyclable materials.

In any case, even though the lifespan of a solar panel in 20 to 35 years, I applaud New Hampshire for raising the issue. I realize humans prefer to deal with problems after they’ve already approached crisis level. But given the massive numbers of solar panels being installed worldwide, we need to be a bit more forward thinking.

The proposed legislation - HB-1459 -  would charter the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to develop guidance for a recycling program. It would require manufacturers that sell solar panels in New Hampshire to submit plans to dispose of them upon their expiration. The goal is to be able to recycle or reuse 85% of the photovoltaic modules.

Manufacturers would be required to show evidence of their ability to finance the end-of-life plans or face fees (aka fines) of up to $10,000. New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services would use the fees/fines to fund the plan’s guidance, review, and approval process.

Can you say unintended consequences?

What’s more likely to happen is that solar adoption in New Hampshire would be stymied. Prices would increase, and/or manufacturers would pull out of the market. And this might well be the legislation’s actual intent. I mean we’re talking about a state that also recently defunded its energy efficiency programs. I guess they take their state slogan of “live free or die” seriously because they’re doing their best to help kill the planet.