When talking about what happens to broken solar panels and other photovoltaic cells, we’re talking about physically broken panels. This rules out other factors that play a major part in how long a solar panel might last.
Just because a solar cell has degraded (the efficiency of the panel and overall performance has declined over time), doesn’t mean that there’s no value left in the panel. If that same panel is riddled with small cracks or collects moisture, then there’s damage (even if the damage is not visible to the eye) and there could be a limited value, if any value at all, left in the panel.
Broken Solar Panels – How It Happens
Typically, broken solar panels are damaged due to weather (hail, debris from extreme winds). While damage from a tree limb falling from a storm wouldn’t surprise anyone, often the biggest culprits of damage are much smaller. Twigs, leaves and dirt or sand can be blown across the glass of solar panels. The damage to the panels in cases such as this starts almost microscopically.
These “micro-scratches” on your solar panels accelerate the degradation timeline, leading to less solar energy being absorbed. The scratches tend to get worse over time until the solar panels are so damaged that they need to be replaced.
Another source of “micro damages” to solar panels is the hand-to-hand transportation that takes place during installation or maintenance. During this transportation, the solar panel’s frame can easily be bent, just like large boards of wood would bend and flex as you carry them from the home improvement store. Unfortunately, in the case of the solar panels, the aluminum, glass, and hardware of the PV cells aren’t made to accommodate “flex” and the unintentional damage is done.
Thinking about the degradation of panels and their efficiency over time, there’s another component to solar panels that causes damage, although there’s no one person or thing to blame for the cause. This is water damage to solar panels due to deteriorated or old seals. Losing a good seal is effectively like springing a leak in your home’s roof. You won’t be able to stop moisture from coming in and causing internal corrosion.
Broken Solar Panels – What Happens Now?
However a panel is damaged, there is the task of figuring out what to do with the broken solar equipment. Solar panels might look pretty simple, but behind that glass there are quite a few raw materials that need special handling.
These materials that could be dangerous (and toxic) include not just the solar panel’s broken glass, but also components containing lead, arsenic, cadmium, and silicon.
A careful and professional removal process should be practiced when handling broken solar panels. If elements like arsenic are not handled correctly or are otherwise improperly disposed of and make their way to ground-level, then a professional remediation process could be necessary.
Provided that broken solar panels are safely removed from the existing grid and packaged for disposal, the next steps are pretty straightforward.
Damaged PV cells and modules can be sent to solar panel recycling providers. These specialists provide a few benefits, including environment compliance and a direct-to-refinery approach that removes any chance that broken solar panels end up in dumps or being haphazardly refurbished and resold to unwitting consumers.
Solar panel recycling providers follow federal and state environmental regulations (important if you are a business) and take broken solar panels through a process that harvests any usable parts, components, and scrap commodities. In doing so, there are far fewer environmental concerns during the rest of the disposal process.
Whatever is left of the broken solar panels is then recycled, scrapped, or put through a refinery disposal process. Broken solar panels are never left to be “landfilled” for future generations to worry about later.
If you are a business or utility company and are looking for a disposal solution, at scale, feel free to reach out to one of the specialists at We Recycle Solar for more information about what happens to your broken solar panels.