Renewable energy sources are climate crisis heroes. Solar power is one such source of energy. In just one second, the Sun produces enough energy to power the Earth for over two hours — essential work in the global boiling era.
With renewable energy on track to account for 95% of the expansion in global power capacity by 2026, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports, solar photovoltaic (PV) energy should soon provide more than half of the world’s renewable power.
While this trajectory is promising, there still remains a major issue: the widespread myth that solar panels are not recyclable.
Vice President of Technical Services at the Solar Energy Industries Association Trade Group Evelyn Butler told Bloomberg News:
“The longer we can reuse these products [solar panels], the better […] We have a huge amount of waste on our hands that we don’t have a way to manage.”
Arizonan startup We Recycle Solar aims to change this. It has diverted 23 million pounds of hazardous waste from landfills by recycling 500,000 solar panels to date, their website says.
For We Recycle Solar CEO Adam Saghei, the startup’s work is urgent:
“Cumulative solar waste is an enormous environmental issue facing our planet, and it could be up to fifty times bigger, and get here five years sooner than previously expected.”
Founded in August 2019, the startup facility in Yuma, Arizona, is able to recycle and reuse 7,500 modules, or 345,000 pounds, of solar panels per year. This equates to 69 million pounds of waste saved in just one year — the same weight as around 700 Boeing 737 commercial jets.
How Does ‘We Recycle Solar’ Actually Work?
“We’re not coming in here with heavy equipment, smashing everything, throwing it into bins or hauling it to the scrap yard,” We Recycle Solar explains, “We’re coming in and unbolting the solar panels and unwiring them very carefully, and trying to package them for reuse in another life.”
The startup recycles 95%+ of the solar panels that enter their process plant in Yuma, Arizona. We Recycle Solar travels to business sites and people’s homes alike, dismantling solar panels as part of their Decommissioning Planning Service.
Far from a simple tear down, this service includes advice on Assessment Retirement Obligation (ARO) summaries for businesses, a greener disposal and recycling system for the solar panels, and a restoring of the site once the panels are removed.
As part of their Solar Equipment Value Recovery scheme, We Recycle Solar profits from panels that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Where most people would disregard old solar panels, the startup promises financial return for clients who choose a greener disposal route for their solar panels.
Related Articles: Sunlight to Power – Evolution and Key Facts About Solar Energy & Space-Based Solar Power: Gathering Clean Energy From Space
Their third service, Returns Management for Solar Manufacturing, helps clients to avoid the cost of returns processing. By implementing a “no-landfill policy,” the startup avoids EPA regulatory fines for improper disposal of waste, and uses GPS tracking technology to ensure clients see where their panels are going.
We Recycle Solar’s CEO Adam Saghei explains the dismantling and recycling process:
“Anything that doesn’t qualify for resale, we then send down to our recycling lines. That material is dismantled, the frames come off, it goes through secondary machinery […] and they separate glass, the silicon, the VAP sheet, silver, cabling etc.”
To date, their website claims, the startup has saved 495 tons of processed aluminium, 10,400 tons of processed glass, 147 tons of processed copper, and voided 651,130 CO2 emissions.
A Green Business Model – Profit Meets Sustainability
“We don’t wanna go to the landfill, that’s the last thing that we wanna do. There’s still life left in them [solar panels] […] at the end of the day, someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure. Now, we’re able to refurbish and re-market that and get it to a place where an underserved community can take advantage of [solar panels].”
— We Recycle Solar CEO Adam Saghei
A recent report from RystadEnergy outlines that the solar photovoltaic market, which is currently valued at $170 million as of this year, should be worth $2.7 billion by 2030. This increase, the report says, may even climb to $80 billion by 2050.
We Recycle Solar aims to play a big role in this market. CEO Adam Saghei says that the startup has managed to increase processing speed and volume capacity to such an extent that the it could single handedly tackle 25% of America’s PV recycling.
What’s more, the CEO claims that 30% less breakage occurs during their decommissioning process, which “significantly increases the amount of PV panels we’re able to repurpose for the resale market.”
Given the speed and efficiency at which We Recycle Solar claims to work, the startup may be a blueprint for the future of photovoltaic waste usage. In short, We Recycle Solar’s business plan makes a lot of sense for both planet and profit.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Cracked solar panel. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.