NREL model shows that current incentives for recycling PV modules are insufficient – pv magazine International
Analysts at the US research institute modeled PV recycling strategies and found that current incentives are not well aligned to boost recycling.
From pv USA magazine
Solar panel waste could reach the weight of 30 Empire State Buildings, or 10 million metric tons, by 2050, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said.
As a result, interest is growing in minimizing and maximizing the value of photovoltaic materials through the creation of a circular economy for energetic materials.
NREL said most research to date has been directed towards developing methods to technically and economically reuse solar materials, but does not take into account how social behaviors fit into the picture. Analysts said taking into account consumer behavior and awareness can empower consumers to be part of the solution and can accelerate adoption of circular economy approaches.
(Read “Partners turn to blockchain to expand solar module recycling.”)
Analysts applied agent-based modeling, which represents groups of customers as “agents” or independent decision-making entities that are formed on the database to simulate decisions made on behalf of the groups they represent.
Four agents were modeled: PV owners, installers, recyclers and manufacturers. Agents selected from the options to repair, reuse, recycle, landfill or store an aging PV module under different scenarios, such as varying recycling policies or costs.
The model used agent decisions to calculate avoided PV mass, as well as the economic impact such as costs for manufacturers or net revenues for recyclers and installers. It also took into account the learning effect for recycling, lower costs due to scale and technological advancements.
The model revealed that under current conditions, few incentives exist to encourage recycling. Based on a projection of 500 GW installed in the United States by 2050, 9.1 million tonnes of waste would be produced. Analysts modeled a current average recycling cost of $ 28 per module, repairs at $ 65 per module, and landfills at just $ 1.38 per module. Used modules could be sold at 36% of the price of new modules.
Based on these figures, the model estimated that over the next 30 years, 80% of the modules will be landfilled, 1% reused and 10% recycled.
At the current material recovery rate, the total recycled mass would be around 8%. Analysts said that with today’s technology, PV modules are not easy to separate and most of the low-value materials are mined. As a result, there is not enough income to encourage further recycling.
How to boost recycling
The NREL model showed that a reduced recycling cost would significantly increase adoption. Increasing the cost per module from $ 28 to $ 18, for example, could potentially lead to an increase in the recycling rate of more than a third by 2050.
The study also indicated that social influence can have an impact on recycling. For example, early adopters who have a generally positive view of the practice can lead the way. This can cause a virtuous circle, in which consumers can not only influence those around them, but also reduce recycling costs by helping the recycling industry to grow.
Higher material recovery rates would also promote adoption. New processes that recover high-value materials like silver, copper and silicon for reuse could create cumulative net income of $ 1.3 billion by 2050, NREL said.
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