As we celebrate our first year in business, we’d like to share some insights based on what we’ve seen and what we predict is ahead based on our time out on the field and talking to those in the Renewable Energy and Waste Industries. There’s still a lot of work to be done to help the Solar Industry reach 100% waste diversion, but together we can pave a path to success. Here are some trends we see ahead for solar panel recycling, battery recycling, and renewable energy waste management.
Domestic Recycling Demands Increase
We will see an increase in demand for domestic recycling facilities. Today, our recycling infrastructure has maintained a different pace than our waste stream. One of the biggest reasons for this is a disconnect between manufacturers and the recycling industry, whereby manufacturers aren’t leveraging recovered materials for making new products. Recycling companies may not be marketing their abilities to support manufacturing effectively. Whatever the many reasons, as solar manufacturing begins development in the U.S., recycling is an excellent opportunity to leverage.
Installers, EPCs, and solar investors are increasingly interested in keeping materials in the U.S. for recycling. PV materials like silicon, indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium, and tellurium, and battery materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt - are all precious metals that are rich in solar/battery materials and more intelligently recovered from these items than newly mined. One goal will be to keep these materials inside the U.S. and improve communications between recycling and manufacturers to get those materials into new domestic panels and batteries.
The Renewable Energy space is taking off when it comes to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Reports, also called Impact Reports and Sustainability Reports. We’ve already seen two significant players in the solar space launch their 2021 ESG Reports, including Shoals 2021 ESG Report and Array Technologies, Inc. 2021 ESG Report. We will see an increase in reports as investors want transparency. Public companies like Shoals and Array will increasingly be required to report metrics for transparency and educational purposes to investors and stakeholders.
Reporting on Renewable Energy Materials Recycling Increases
As companies want to begin tracking their waste diversion efforts, we will see an increase in demand for waste reporting metrics. EPCs, Utilities, Investors, and Land Owners are all increasingly becoming interested in waste diversion and tracking waste metrics. While renewable installations are the main carbon-lowering effort in many plans, waste diversion efforts are increasingly being recognized as a part of that equation.
In the Array Technologies Inc. ESG Report, aluminum recycling metrics have started to be collected and reported, as seen in a snapshot of their report below.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, established to protect investors, is cracking down on ESG claims that impair investor decisions and will soon require metrics to be backed by proof. Greenwashing will generally see increased scrutiny, and companies will want to take action to avoid intentional or unintentional greenwashing. We’ve seen fashion brands like H&M receive backlash and a class-action lawsuit for their deliberate greenwashing efforts. There are ways we can unintentionally greenwash marketing efforts, especially when marketing teams lack an environmental background. It’s important to have checks and balances for your marketing team and make sure they are equipped to be transparent and honest about environmental efforts.
Remember, sustainability efforts are intended to make a measurable impact on environmental issues. This means steering clear of greenwashing claims and reporting accurate metrics that verifiable recycling certificates, verifiable measured carbon reductions, etc., can back. Don’t overstate claims; report your efforts transparently to clarify the area you’re working on. You don’t have to be perfect to report your metrics; it’s more important to have integrity and state where your company is currently and where it plans to go, pointing out imperfections and areas needed for improvement.
We are all on a journey to do business better while making a profit. The significant part of the Renewable Energy space is that everyone participating is geared up to make substantial profits. Let’s also do the right thing - set, take action on, and report our efforts for a more sustainable industry.
While domestic manufacturing takes off, sourcing previous materials will require a weighted effort of materials recovery. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) supports excellent investments in the Renewable Energy Economy. We will pair these efforts with financial support for recycling efforts via the Extension of the Advanced Energy Project Credit – IRA §13501 (§48C Credit). Material recovery incentives are included in this provision of the IRA which expands the definition of qualifying advanced energy projects to include manufacturing renewable energy components, including facilities that recycle critical minerals, solar panels, and wind turbine blades.
Full-Scale Solar Cleanups
Historically, panel recycling, when it did occur in the U.S., has been a one-off service, picking up panels and hauling them to the recycler. We will see an increase in installers leveraging the help of more full-scale Solar Waste Management services. In a sector challenged with workforce development efforts, we will see an increase in Solar Waste Management Professionals that can bring a specialized cleanup crew to installation sites so that install crews can stay focused on commissioning. We will see waste management and solar recycling become a more full-scale service leveraged for improved site management, better use of staff, equipment, and enhanced waste diversion efforts, all leveraged to increase competitiveness in the increasingly competitive sector.
We know better than to listen to headlines that attempt to discredit battery storage systems because of challenging material acquisition, as there are many solutions to our battery mineral challenges. Massive battery recycling efforts will be the next step forward for the industry. That’s because by reclaiming, for example, lithium battery cells as a resource versus ore, we can expect:
a 17X richer source of nickel
a 4X richer source of lithium
a 10X richer source of cobalt
Companies like Tesla are already developing plans for battery materials recovery. Solar Storage Systems are also getting attention from the Department of Energy as a plan that needs solving. Stitching up the missing links between battery manufacturers and recycling will be the most crucial step in transitioning to more efficient systems and material usage.
A Renewable Energy Circular Economy
These trends will culminate as a grand opportunity for the Renewable Energy Sector to become an Energy Circular Economy. The U.S. must take every opportunity to advance and secure domestic renewable energy manufacturing. Going beyond an experiment will require innovation, intelligent material usage, and a wise supply chain that uses current materials and repurposes them for new, more powerful equipment. PV Tech has asked us if a circular economy is on the horizon for solar, and our definitive answer is that it’s a matter of when not if.
Green Clean Solar is the #1 woman-owned full-scale solar waste management company operating in all 50 states. We want to be your best partner and vendor in the business of solar panel recycling and solar waste management.
Contact our team for your decommissioning and commissioning projects and to recycle with us →
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