opinion4 min read

The truth about solar panels

Solar power has become a game-changer in the realm of solar street lighting, offering a clean and energy-efficient solution for new and temporary lighting projects. As a leading manufacturer in the lighting sector, we have deployed numerous applications of UK-optimised solar street lighting, helping local authorities save on installation costs and embrace sustainable practices. So, when we read this recent sensationalist BBC article titled “Are Solar Panels an Eco Disaster Waiting to Happen?” it sparked some interesting discussions about end-of-life implications.

In this blog, we discuss the facts. Starting with: The average lifespan of solar panels in solar-powered street lighting

Solar panels used in street lighting systems are designed to withstand the rigours of outdoor environments and have a lifespan that aligns with the broader solar panel industry. On average, these can last for 25 to 30 years, ensuring long-term reliability and cost-effectiveness for street lighting projects. Alongside our partner, Green Frog Systems we select the highest quality mono-crystalline panels that meet the specific requirements of solar street lighting installations.

Can solar panels be recycled?

Yes! When solar panels used for street lighting reach the end of their useful life, recycling them is paramount.

For installers and engineers the cost of disposal can add up. Under the WEEE directive, solar panels are considered a specialist waste product. Recycling the panels can recover up to 90% of the photovoltaic glass and up to 95% of the semiconductor materials necessary for further production, while minimising environmental impact.

France is the current world-leader for processing photovoltaic waste, and as the BBC article reports, it is the world’s first factory dedicated to fully recycling solar panels. The factory, owned by ROSI, aims to extract and re-use 99% of a panel’s components, including precious materials like silver and copper.

The emergence of a new industry to meet the demand

However, the UK appears to be following suit. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the UK is predicted to generate 30,000 tonnes of solar waste in the next decade. Their report is the first-ever projection of PV panel waste volumes to 2050. It highlights that recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock an estimated stock of 78 million tonnes of raw materials and other valuable components globally by 2050.

As the adoption of solar-powered street lighting continues to rise, the need for efficient and environmentally responsible recycling processes becomes increasingly significant. The factory mentioned in the BBC article represents a prime example of how recycling facilities are gearing up to cater to the growing demand for solar panels. This emerging industry presents exciting opportunities for job creation, technological innovation, and economic growth. By investing in research and development, as well as fostering robust recycling infrastructures, we can ensure a sustainable future for solar power.

Our commitment to sustainable solar-powered street lighting

Acrospire has been at the forefront of solar-powered street lighting installations, providing clean and energy-efficient lighting solutions to local authorities, housing developers and facilities managers. Through our deployments we have saved on installation costs and contributed to reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable practices. Moreover, we remain committed to responsible waste management by encouraging recycling of solar panels used in our solar-powered street lighting projects. Through recyclability by design and properly disposing of used solar panels, we hope to minimise our environmental impact and recover valuable resources.

We’re currently in discussions with a waste management recycling facility that specialises in handling and processing solar panels to make life easier for our customers. Through these recycling processes, the valuable components of the panels, such as photovoltaic cells, can be extracted and reused in new solar panels or repurposed for other applications.

Watch this space but our plan is to cut down on PV waste by offering a return-to-base recycling service, similar to our battery take-back scheme, below. Contact us if you’d like to discuss this service.

Acrospire’s solar battery take-back scheme

This initiative allows housing developers, facilities managers, and local authorities to safely dispose of used solar batteries, ensuring they are recycled or disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.

As with all aspects of the green sector, it is vital that new technologies, including EV, infrastructure for wind power and solar panels, are reviewed and planned with circular economy principles in mind. The transition to a circular economy aims to minimise waste, maximise resource efficiency, and reduce environmental impacts. When considering the recycling, remanufacturing, and reuse of solar panels, assessing the energy and resources required is crucial to ensure that these processes do not inadvertently undermine the positive environmental work at the heart of the circular economy.

We understand the importance of circular economy principles and are dedicated to working to incorporate them into our manufacturing process. By prioritising responsible waste management, investing in sustainable practices, and promoting resource efficiency, we can ensure that the benefits of solar-powered street lighting extend beyond just clean and efficient energy generation.