Solar panels may cause devastating consequences on Earth: when things will get out of control

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
In China, even greenhouses are covered with solar panels

Solar panels, which are now being installed around the world en masse as part of the fight to reduce carbon emissions, may eventually become a real environmental problem for humanity when the time comes for their disposal.

According to the BBC, by 2030, there will be a task to dispose of approximately four million tons of solar panels, and by 2050, the situation could be completely out of control.

The main problem is that solar panels last only up to 25 years, and given their constant improvement, a situation when it will be cheaper for users to replace the panels even after 10 years of use will likely arise. Eventually, billions of panels will need to be recycled and replaced.

Dr. Rong Deng, an expert on solar panel recycling at the University of New South Wales in Australia, says that "up to 2.5 billion" panels have already been installed worldwide, but there is not enough specialized infrastructure for their utilization and recycling.

"By 2050, it will be a mountain of waste if we don't start recycling them now," warns Ute Collier, Deputy Director of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

In 2021, global solar energy production capacity increased by 22%. In particular, in the UK, about 13,000 photovoltaic solar panels are installed every month: most of them on the roofs of private homes.

In many cases, these solar installations become relatively uneconomic before the end of their expected lifespan. As newer, more efficient designs emerge, it may be cheaper to replace solar panels that are only 10 or 15 years old with updated versions.

Collier notes that if current growth trends continue, the volume of solar panel scrap could be huge.

"By 2030, we think we'll have four million tons (of scrap), which is still manageable. But by 2050, we could have more than 200 million tons worldwide," the expert said.

For comparison, the ubiquitous plastic is produced in the amount of 400 million tons per year.

Currently, France is preparing to take a step towards solving the problem, where the world's first plant for the complete recycling of solar panels will be opened at the end of June.

ROSI, the company that owns the plant, intends to achieve a recycling efficiency of 99% of solar panel components that can be reused.

In addition to glass and aluminum frames, which make up the bulk of the panel structure, experts emphasize the need to extract precious materials contained in the panels. We are talking about silver and copper, which can then be used to make new solar panels.

Each solar panel contains only tiny fragments of these precious materials, and these fragments are so intertwined with other components that it has not been economically viable to separate them until now. But they make up 60% of the cost of solar panels.

Experts also admit that there is simply not enough silver to cover the world's demand for solar panels, so its reuse is essential.

The existing problems with the lack of infrastructure for recycling, according to experts, have arisen as the first generation of household solar panels is only now reaching the end of their useful life. Therefore, when they are decommissioned in the near future, measures will need to be taken to recycle them.

"Now is the time to think about it," Collier emphasizes.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that stones formed from plastic waste floating in the ocean were found on one of the most isolated places on Earth, the volcanic island of Trindade.

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