HOW GREEN ARE THE MATERIALS USED IN SOLAR PANELS?

Hands Showing Solar

ARE THE VERY MATERIALS THAT PROVIDE GREEN ENERGY TO US GREEN?

Solar energy is clean energy for residences and businesses that leaves next to no carbon footprint on our planet. After the years of decimation caused by fossil fuels to Earth’s climate as well as atmosphere, solar energy has the promise of a greener future. The solar panels created to harness the sun’s energy are comprised of materials that need to be recycled in a specialized manner. If this is not done, they have the potential to pollute the environment. Theoretically, nearly 98% of the materials used in solar panels can by recycled.

WHAT ARE SOLAR PANELS MADE OF?

Most solar panels are made by using materiel that can be easily reused or recycled. Solar panels work by converting

light energy to electrical energy through the photovoltaic effect. A large majority of these solar panels either utilize thin-film cells based on silicon or cadmium telluride or wafer-based crystallized silicon cells. In the year 2013, over 90% of the world’s photovoltaic production was accounted by crystalline silicon and the rest of the market was made up of thin-film cells based on amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride as well as other materials. Below is an image the depicts the materials used in solar panels.

Break Down of a Solar Panel

From old solar panels, a high amount of materials can be retrieved. The materials can be retrieved and can then even be used in the manufacture of new photovoltaic panels. Materials such as glass, silver, indium, selenide, gallium, copper, aluminum, cadmium, silicon dioxide, and aluminum dioxide can be retrieved and reused. The materials that cannot be used to make new panels can be used in the manufacture of other products. Nearly 90% of the most precious semiconductor materials in solar panels can be recycled and used to create new panels. Recycling all of this saves money on materials and reduced the amount of waste that is amassed on landfills

ATTEMPTS TO RECYCLE CADMIUM

Solar cells made using cadmium need to be disposed of in an efficient manner as specialized recycling is required for cadmium. Cadmium can be harmful to the environment if it is allowed to rot in regular landfills around the world. Specialized recycling has not been established worldwide, however, China is attempting to solve this problem on a large scale basis. China is the world’s largest producer of solar energy and the country is aggressively pursuing this form of energy, including research into space-based solar energy.

PV-SPECIFIC RECYCLING

There is a need to develop photovoltaic-specific recycling techniques based on the materials used in solar panels. Recycling solar panels based on their PV specifications is gaining popularity this century. Manufacturers are considering the benefits of PV-specific recycling while developing solar panels nowadays because the amount of solar panels in the world is only going to increase. Recycling materials will save manufacturers a great deal of resources on sourcing new materials.

Investment in PV-specific recycling is growing on a daily basis and we will need to adequately prepare for the barrage of old solar panels that are going to be unusable in the near future.

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NET ENERGY METERING 3.0 INFORMATION

Net Energy Metering 3.0 (NEM 3.0) is the incoming law created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The new tariffs and fees will impact both residential and commercial solar systems built in California. 

As this notice is posted in November of 2022, the Proposed Decision from the CPUC outlining the proposed NEM 3.0 terms is expected soon. This comes after a year’s delay. Once the new agreement is finalized and passed into law, there will exist a designation of the deadline under which new systems will continue to qualify for NEM 2.0 rates. 

The new NEM 3.0 rates will be designed to lower the value of electricity during the daytime hours, when solar is producing, and increase the value of electricity during the evening hours, when solar homes and businesses purchase electricity. In short, NEM 3.0 will create a “sell low, buy high” proposition to new solar system owners. 

To Californians looking to install a solar system on their home or commercial building, the NEM 2.0 rates will be preferred. As of this post, the solar industry does not know the details of how different the NEM 3.0 rates will be from the NEM 2.0 rates. 

Please use the HES Solar website as a resource to learn more, and please take our offer to speak with an HES Solar Energy Consultant at no obligation.

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Robert Laverty

Senior Energy Consultant, Residential

Robert Laverty joined the HES team in the summer of 2018, bringing his ten years of solar design experience and his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Puget Sound with him. Robert is dedicated to finding solutions to help families produce and store electricity in order to reduce their reliance on grid power as well as help reduce their household’s carbon footprint. Robert’s experience as a newspaper editor as well as his involvement with the sustainability-focused Rocky Mountain Institute drives him to constantly seek out innovative ways to meet energy needs through renewable resources as well as helps him share those ideas with Southern California homeowners. When not at work or volunteering time with his church or community, Robert spends time with his wife and two sons or pursues his passion of fly fishing.
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