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How Much Waste is Generated for Every 1 MW of Solar Installed?

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Welcome to Green Clean Solar! We're revolutionizing how waste is handled in the solar industry by incorporating circular economy practices on job sites. We do this by addressing the mountains of waste that accumulate on utility-scale solar installation sites - and that's not just panels; it's all the waste! Check out all the data we've uncovered and discover how much waste goes into building a solar site and what full-scope solar waste management can do to divert it from the landfill.

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Methodology

BACKGROUND, DESCRIPTION, DELIVERY AND LEARNING OBJECTIVE

We have collected data on waste diversion efforts before and after recycling processes have been implemented on utility-scale solar installation sites up to 250MW. Our mission is to drive the circular economy within the solar industry; this topic is important as it highlights how much waste is generated for every megawatt of solar installed and where that waste goes.

 

INTRODUCTION

Utility-scale solar, while known for bringing clean energy to the masses, currently needs to improve waste management practices on large-scale solar installation sites. At present, the common practice is to landfill waste at the end of a project. On average, for every 1 MW of solar installed, about five hauls of 40-foot yard containers are disposed of in landfills. This study aims to assess the amount and types of waste currently discarded in a typical large-scale solar installation site and to evaluate the potential for waste diversion. We hypothesize that fewer, ideally zero, landfill hauls will be required with proper upstream changes, waste management and recycling practices, resulting in minimal landfill waste and a reduced environmental impact.

 

METHODS

We used a two-pronged approach to gather data. A survey was disseminated, asking general contractors of large-scale utility solar sites to share the number of 40-foot yard containers they use per 1 MW of solar installed. hauls of waste.

The survey garnered 77 responses, and the weighted average was calculated to be approximately five hauls per 1 MW. In addition, we counted waste/recycling on several installation sites and measured those waste materials by separating them into different 40-foot yard containers based on type: wood crates, cardboard, plastic, metal, and waste. The crew and onsite staff were trained to ensure proper waste separation, all bins were labeled, and daily quality control checks were carried out. Data on each haul was collected and used to calculate the amount of waste per 1 MW being installed, and it confirmed the survey average results, for every 1 MW of solar installed, there are five hauls of waste.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Our study findings confirm an average of 5 hauls per 1MW from both our survey and onsite data collection. We conclude that much of the waste currently sent to landfills from large solar installation sites can be recycled and condensed to reduce hauls. However, when material separation and recycling were put into place, a reduced amount of hauls to the landfill were required. On some sites, the packaging was 100% recyclable, which resulted in zero-landfill hauls, demonstrating the potential that upstream supply chain decisions can have downstream. 

This highlights an opportunity to improve the environmental footprint of solar installations by recovering and recycling materials that would otherwise be discarded. By implementing better waste management practices that prioritize material recovery, on average, 3 tons of waste from every 1 MW can be diverted from landfills and instead recycled and recovered to be reincorporated into the economy.

 

RESULTS

An average of 4.65 tons of waste requiring five hauls are generated for every 1 MW of solar installed; in most cases, this waste goes to landfill unnecessarily. Installers have an opportunity to clean up operations and reduce waste. Implementing better waste management practices can significantly reduce landfill waste and improve the environmental footprint of solar installations.

We recommend following Green Clean Solar's publications for further insights and updates on large-scale solar waste management. The next steps in our research include exploring upstream supply chain solutions for a zero-waste solar installation and researching ways to subsidize recycling on solar sites. We aim to make material recovery second nature for the renewable energy industry by making it financially beneficial and improving brand reputation for those who are proactive.



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