The first projection of PV panel waste volumes - End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels has just been released, and it reports that recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock a large stock of raw materials and other valuable components, with value projected up to ₹1.01 lakh crore ($5 billion) by 2050.

“Global installed PV capacity reached 222 GW at the end of 2015 and is expected to further rise to 4,500 GW by 2050. With this tremendous capacity growth will come an increase in waste associated with the sector,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This brings about new business opportunities to ‘close the loop’ for solar PV panels at the end of their lifetime. To seize these opportunities, however, preparations for the surge in end-of-life material should begin now.”

“With the right policies and enabling frameworks in place, new industries that recycle and repurpose old solar PV panels will drive considerable economic value creation and will be an important element in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future,” added Amin.

The report suggests that addressing growing solar PV waste, and spurring the establishment of an industry to handle it, would require: the adoption of effective, PV-specific waste regulation; the expansion of existing waste management infrastructure to include end-of-life treatment of PV panels, and; the promotion of ongoing innovation in panel waste management.

“Experience with electronic waste tells us that developing technological and regulatory systems for efficient, effective and affordable end-of-life management requires long lead times, said Stefan Nowak, Chairman of IEA-PVPS. “This timely report can be used by public and private sector institutions to anchor the necessary investments in technology and policy research and development and supporting analyses to unlock the significant recoverable value in end-of-life panels.”

“Responsible life-cycle management is an imperative for all PV technologies – the socio-economic and environmental benefits which can potentially be unlocked through end-of-life processes and policies for this waste stream in the future should be seen as an opportunity today to start extending the photovoltaic value chain,” added Nowak of IEA-PVPS.