CircSolar – a Circular Solution for Solar Panels

Solar energy is a clean and renewable energy source, but are the solar panels themselves sustainable? Unfortunately, not entirely. Solar panels have a lifespan of about 30 years – with significant potential for repair, reuse, upgrade, and recycling. However, there is currently no circular system in place, neither for reuse nor for fully managing all the glass, plastic, aluminum, silicon, silver, copper, lead found in worn-out solar panels. The CircSolar project gathers stakeholders from the entire value chain with the goal of proposing a sustainable and financially viable system for the circular management of solar panels.

Solar panel waste could reach 200 million tons by 2050.

Solar panel waste could reach 200 million tons by 2050.

The Issue

Solar energy is rapidly growing and is projected to become the primary power source globally by 2027. In Sweden, 55,000 solar installations were added in 2022, with this number expected to double in 2023. While this is a positive step in reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change, solar panels have a lifespan of two to three decades, and there’s currently no circular infrastructure for handling end-of-life panels. Without action, society could face an environmental challenge with an estimated 200 million tons of solar panel waste globally by 2050. Implementing a circular approach to panel management is crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainability of solar energy.

Our Solution

The goal of the CircSolar project is to develop a concrete proposal for how a national infrastructure for the circular management of solar panels can be envisioned and practically implemented. The proposed solution aims to encompass business models, incentive and compensation structures, as well as policies and directives necessary to support circular development. Through the project, stakeholders from the entire value chain come together to explore the possibilities of a circular system for solar panels that ensures compliance with future legal requirements, secures access to essential recycled materials, reduces the use of virgin natural resources, and enhances the competitiveness of Swedish and European solar energy.

We aim to develop solutions that benefit all parties throughout the system. To succeed we bring together researchers as well as practitioners from all parts of the value chain – from producers, installers, and industry organizations to recyclers and the provider of the Swedish collection system for consumer electronics.

– Johanna Olofsson Behrman, Project Manager Future Materials, Axfoundation

Project Goals:

  • Propose what a national infrastructure for the solar panel circularity should look like and how it should be developed.
  • Analyze circularity in the current solar panel value chain.
  • Create future scenarios to predict future flows and evaluate the need for changes in processes and value chain composition.
  • Provide suggestions for business models, as well as incentive and compensation structures, to enable efficient and sustainable management of solar panels throughout their lifecycle.
  • Develop proposals for policies and directives necessary for an effective and sustainable solar panel system.
Solar energy is expected to become the largest global energy source by 2027.

Solar energy is expected to become the largest global energy source by 2027.

Our Work

Axfoundation is project lead in CircSolar and collaborates with key players across the entire value chain, from producers to recyclers. Our role is to bring together expertise and perspectives to develop sustainable solutions. The project runs until August 2026 and commenced with Axfoundation’s Do Tank at Torsåker Farm in October 2023.

We have an opportunity to do things right from the start and proactively develop a system that is ready to handle the upcoming large volumes of worn-out solar panels, but it requires action now and from the entire industry.

– Martin Seeger, El-kretsen, a Swedish provider of collection systems for consumer electronics.

Did you know…

Partners

The project partners are Axfoundation, El-kretsen (a Swedish provider of collection systems for consumer electronics), KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Remondis, Stena Recycling, and Svea Solar. The reference group includes AxSol and the Swedish Solar Energy Association.

The project maintains an open door for additional actors who wish to participate to foster collaboration and bring about systemic change. The work is supported by Vinnova.

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