This article wants to clarify how photovoltaic panels are highly recyclable products and how important it is to follow the regulations on electrical and electronic waste to ensure the correct disposal cycle.
The disposal of solar panels is an issue that does not seem to concern us immediately, but it is good to start inquiring to know how to deal with the issue in the future, even if still far away. In fact, Italy is only at the beginning of the journey in the use of solar energy: almost all the systems have been installed in the last fifteen years and, knowing that the panels have an average life of 25 years, their disposal seems a matter procrastinable.
But technology in the renewable energy sector is always evolving and, thanks to a reduction in costs and an increase in the efficiency of the new panels, the replacement of modules is sometimes the best solution.
If you are thinking of disposing of your photovoltaic (or solar) panels, first of all you must know that all the materials that compose them are highly recyclable: mainly composed of glass and aluminum, these modules are broken down into various materials by companies specialized in their disposal, arriving at 95% recycling. Precisely to ensure this re-circulation of precious raw materials, it is necessary to ensure that they are disposed of properly.
First of all, it is necessary to identify in which disposal category our solar system falls. In fact, once their life cycle is over, the panels become waste and fall into the WEEE category, that is Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment, in grouping n ° 4 (R4).
Subsequently, in order to evaluate costs and methods of disposal, other factors must be considered that depend on the characteristics of the system itself:
- Nominal power;
- Installation date;
- Government incentives.
Domestic and professional photovoltaic panels
The power of the system determines the category to which it belongs and, indirectly, the method of disposal. When the rated power is less than 10kW we are dealing with a domestic system. If, on the other hand, the power is greater than 10kW, we are talking about a professional system, even if it is owned by a natural person.
In the case of a domestic system, disposal must be carried out by the owner at the reference WEEE Collection Center, which can be traced through the official website of the Coordination Center. Disposal is the responsibility of the manufacturer, so for the owner it is free of charge.
In the case of a professional plant, disposal is regulated by the WEEE / 2014 legislation.
WEEE regulation of 2014 for the disposal of professional plants
The 2014 WEEE legislation, which supplements the 2012 European Directive, identifies two different methods of disposal depending on the installation date of the professional photovoltaic system. In detail:
- Systems installed before 12 April 2014: in this case, the cost of disposal falls to the owner. However, as with all other WEEE, there is the opportunity to use the “One Against One” collection: this means that, if you decide to buy a new system, the manufacturer of the new one will have to deal with the disposal of the old.
- Photovoltaic systems installed after 12 April 2014: in this case the cost of disposal is borne by the manufacturer, so there will be no expense for the owner.
In any case, the photovoltaic WEEE must be delivered to a special treatment plant registered with the WEEE Coordination Center, through an authorized person.
If you have purchased the plant using a state incentive, the Energy Account, the Electricity Service Manager (GSE) also comes into play in the management of the disposal, which granted the incentive. As a preventive measure, during the last 10 years of entitlement to the incentive, the GSE will withhold a sum directly from the amount paid, to cover the proper management of waste from these panels. If you prove that you have properly disposed of the system, the fee will be returned to you in a single solution. For this reason, disposal must be promptly communicated to GSE, with the form “declaration of successful delivery of the WEEE deriving from the photovoltaic panel incentivized in the Conto Energia”. This communication must be sent to the GSE even in the case of replacement of a single module, so the manager will update the count of the amounts withheld. The amount is € 12 / panel for domestic systems and € 10 / panel for professional systems.
This procedure is applied according to art. 40 of Legislative Decree. 49/2014 to all photovoltaic panels for which one of the following incentives has been activated:
- I, II, III Energy Account (period 2005-2010);
- IV Conto Energia, for photovoltaic plants and architecturally integrated photovoltaic systems (BiPV), installed until 06.2012, and all concentrating plants;
- V Conto Energia, only for photovoltaic systems installed up to 30.06.2012, all BiPV systems and concentrating systems;
Plants that are not included in this list are regulated by the Technical Regulations of the GSE of December 2012. We therefore refer to:
- IV Conto Energia, with regard to plants which came into operation from 1 July 2012, excluding concentration plants;
- V Conto Energia, for plants that came into operation from 1 July 2012, excluding concentration plants and BiPV plants.
In these cases there is an agreement between the producers and the consortia involved, for the management of the photovoltaic WEEE, which attributes the responsibility for proper disposal to the producer. For this reason, there is no deduction from incentives.
The concern about the disposal of photovoltaic panels is highly unfounded and based on rough and biased considerations.
Photovoltaic panels continue to produce energy even after the guaranteed 25 years, even if their yield is reduced by 15%. It is therefore not certain that, once the guaranteed period has elapsed, the plant is to be disposed of: replacement should be spoken of only when this brings real economic convenience, that is, when the maintenance cost exceeds the production profit.
As regards disposal, it must be considered that the materials with which the panels are constructed, essentially glass and aluminum, are very attractive for the disposers, as they are highly recoverable and re-marketable materials. For this reason, there are various supply chains and organizations that deal with the withdrawal of disused photovoltaic panels. Yet, we still hear of “concern for the disposal of photovoltaic panels”. But when this doubt arises, it must be immediately dismissed, remembering that photovoltaics emerge victorious from the comparison with traditional energy sources in terms of energy payback.
To optimize the performance of your panels even during disposal, it is essential to understand when they are underperforming compared to their nominal value and especially when it becomes really convenient to replace them. In this exercise, the Regalgrid technology is of invaluable support to monitor performance and help you make the correct decision.