The U.S. gets about 2.3% of its electricity from solar energy, and solar energy use is only expected to grow. By some estimates, nearly half a million solar panels are installed every day. But what happens to all those panels once they’re no longer usable in 20–30 years?
Thomas Yarbrough, CE’18, MS CE’18, a Ph.D. student in civil engineering, is working with assistant chair and associate professor Stuart Baur to help modify state- and local-level recycling efforts by educating current owners about disposal options.
“People don’t realize the sheer number of panels that are installed each year,” Yarbrough says. “In just the past few years, the solar panel industry has averaged half a million panels being installed each day — eventually we will have piles of these things lying around.”
By providing a better understanding of current salvaging options, they hope to improve recycling efforts and to establish a baseline measure for what solar panels are still usable. They also hope to create new public awareness programs focused on reusing and repurposing panels.
Working with the Ozark Rivers Solid Waste Management District, Baur will form potential guidelines and procedures that the industry and state could use to increase reuse.
“Unchecked, the current direction could lead to a crisis in waste management, where unprepared regions will see large amounts of under-utilized, discarded paneling,” Baur says.