Technical ReportPDF Available

Task 12: End of life management solar photovoltaic panels



Technical potential of materials recovered from end-of-life solar PV panels could exceed $15 billion by 2050 The global solar photovoltaic (PV) boom currently underway will represent a significant untapped business opportunity as decommissioned solar panels enter the waste stream in the years ahead, according to a report released today by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS). The report, End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, is the first-ever projection of PV panel waste volumes to 2050 and highlights that recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock a large stock of raw materials and other valuable components. It estimates that PV panel waste, comprised mostly of glass, could total 78 million tonnes globally by 2050. If fully injected back into the economy, the value of the recovered material could exceed USD 15 billion by 2050. This potential material influx could produce 2 billion new panels or be sold into global commodity markets, thus increasing the security of future PV supply or other raw material-dependent products. The report suggests that addressing growing solar PV waste, and spurring the establishment of an industry to handle it, would require: the adoption of effective, PV-specific waste regulation; the expansion of existing waste management infrastructure to include end-of-life treatment of PV panels, and; the promotion of ongoing innovation in panel waste management. In most countries, PV panels fall under the classification of “general waste” but the European Union (EU) was the first to adopt PV-specific waste regulations, which include PV-specific collection, recovery, and recycling targets. EU’s directive requires all panel producers that supply PV panels to the EU market (wherever they may be based) to finance the costs of collecting and recycling end-of-life PV panels put on the market in Europe. End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels, is the second of several solar-focused publications IRENA is releasing this summer. Last week, IRENA released The Power to Change, which predicts average costs for electricity generated by solar and wind technologies could decrease by between 26 and 59 per cent by 2025. Later this week, IRENA will release Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionize the Electricity System – which provides a comprehensive overview of solar PV across the globe and its prospects for the future.
This publication was prepared by IRENA in collaboration with IEA-PVPS Task 12 with valuable input from Dr. Karsten
Wambach (bifa Umweltinstitut, consultant).
This report benefited from contributions and review from a panel of experts: Tabaré A. Currás (WWF International
Global Climate & Energy Initiative), Zhang Jia (IEA-PVPS Task 12), Keiichi Komoto (IEA-PVPS Task 12), Dr. Parikhit
Sinha (IEA-PVPS Task 12) and Knut Sanders (Ökopol).
Valuable input was also received from Henning Wuester, Rabia Ferroukhi, Nicolas Fichaux, Asiyah Al Ali, Deger
Saygin, Salvatore Vinci and Nicholas Wagner (IRENA).
IRENA and I EA-PVPS would like to extend their gratitude to the Governme nt of Germany for supporting this publication.
IRENA: Stephanie Weckend
IEA-PVPS: Andreas Wade, Garvin Heath
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informational purposes only, without any conditions, warranties or undertakings, either express or implied, from IRENA
and IEA-PVPS, its officials and agents, including but not limited to warranties of accuracy, completeness and fitness for a
particular purpose or use of such content. The information contained herein does not necessarily represent the views of
the Members of IRENA and IEA-PVPS. The mention of specific companies or certain projects, products or services does
not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by IRENA and IEA-PVPS in preference to others of a similar nature
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area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of frontiers or boundaries.
Unless otherwise stated, this publication and material featured herein are the property
of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy
Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems (IEA-PVPS) and are subject to copyright by IRENA
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Material contained in this publication attributed to third parties may be subject to third-
party copyright and separate terms of use and restrictions, including restrictions in
relation to any commercial use. This publication should be cited as: IRENA and IEA-PVPS
(2016), “End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels,” International Renewable
Energy Agency and International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems.
© IREN A 2016 AND IEA -PVP S 2016
ISBN 978-92-95111-98-1 (Print, IRENA)
ISBN 978-92-95111-99-8 (PDF, IRENA)
ISBN 978 -3-906 042-36-7 (IEA P VPS)
IEA- PVPS Repor t Number: T 12-06: 2016
IRENA is an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy
future and serves as the principal platform for international co-operation, a centre of excellence and a repository
of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy. IRENA promotes the widespread
adoption and sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, including bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower,
ocean, solar and wind energy, in the pursuit of sustainable development, energy access, energy security and
low-carbon economic growth and prosperity.
The IEA, founded in November 1974, is an autonomous body within the framework of the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that carries out a comprehensive programme of energy
co-operation among its member countries. The European Commission also participates in the work of the IEA.
The IEA-PVPS is one of the collaborative research and development (R&D) agreements established within the
IEA. Since 1993, participants in the PVPS have been conducting a variety of joint projects in the applications of
PV conversion of solar energy into electricity.
Glossary .............................................................................. 6
Figures, tables and boxes ............................................................... 7
Abbreviations ......................................................................... 9
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY .......................................................... 11
1. INTRODUCTION ............................................................. 19
2. SOLAR PV PANEL WASTE PROJECTIONS ............................... 23
2.1 Global solar PV growth ........................................................ 23
2.2 PV panel waste model ......................................................... 25
2.3 PV panel waste projections .................................................... 32
3.1 Panel composition ............................................................ 38
3.2 Waste classification ........................................................... 43
4. PV PANEL WASTE MANAGEMENT OPTIONS ........................... 47
4.1 Waste management principles for PV panels .................................... 47
4.2 Regulatory approach: European Union .......................................... 51
5.1 Germany: Mature market with EU-directed, PV-specific waste regulations .......... 59
5.2 UK: Young market with EU-directed, PV-specific waste regulations ................ 63
5.3 Japan: Advanced market without PV-specific waste regulations ................... 65
5.4 US: Established, growing market without PV-specific waste regulations ............ 69
5.5 China: Leading market without PV-specific waste regulations ...................... 70
5.6 India: Growing market without PV-specific waste regulations ...................... 72
6.1 Opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle PV panels ............................ 75
6.2 Material supply and socio-economic benefits .................................... 85
7. CONCLUSIONS: THE WAY FORWARD ................................... 91
References ........................................................................... 94
Amorphous silicon Non-crystalline form of silicon formed using silicon vapour which is quickly cooled.
Electrical and electronic
The term electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is defined as equipment designed for
use with a voltage rating not exceeding 1,000 Volts (V) for alternating current and 1,500 V
for direct current, or equipment dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields
in order to work properly, or equipment for the generation of such currents, or equipment
for the transfer of such currents, or equipment for the measurement of such currents.
Extended Producer
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an environmental policy approach in which
a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a
product’s life cycle. An EPR policy is characterised by (1) shifting responsibility (physically
and/or economically; fully or partially) upstream towards the producers and away from
governments and (2) the provision of incentives to producers to take into account
environmental considerations when designing their products.
Monocrystalline silicon Silicon manufactured in such a way that if forms a continuous single crystal without grain
Raw material Basic material which has not been processed, or only minimally, and is used to produce
goods, finished products, energy or intermediate products which will be used to produce
other goods.
Pay-as-you-go and
In a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach, the cost of collection and recycling is covered by
market participants when waste occurs. By contrast, a pay-as-you-put (PAYP) approach
involves setting aside an upfront payment of estimated collection and recycling costs when
a product is placed on the market. Last-man-standing-insurance is an insurance product
that covers a producer compliance scheme based on a PAYG approach if all producers
disappear from the market. In that situation, the insurance covers the costs of collection
and recycling. In a joint-and-several liability scheme, producers of a certain product or
product group agree to jointly accept the liabilities for waste collection and recycling for a
specific product or product group.
Poly- or multicrystalline
Silicon manufactured in such a way that it consists of a number of small crystals, forming
Thin-film Technology used to produce solar cells based on very thin layers of PV materials deposited
over an inexpensive material (glass, stainless steel, plastic).
Figure 1 Approach to estimating PV panel waste ...23
Figure 2 Projected cumulative global PV capacity ...25
Figure 3 Two-step PV panel waste model ..........26
Figure 4 Exponential curve fit of projection of PV panel
weight-to-power ratio (t/MW) ............ 27
Figure 5 Failure rates according to customer complaints . 28
Figure 6 Example of Weibull curve with two different
shape factors from Table 5 ................31
Figure 7 Estimated cumulative global waste volumes
(million t) of end-of-life PV panels ......... 32
Figure 8 Annually installed and end-of-life PV panels
2020-2050 (in percentage waste vs. tonnes
installed) by early-loss scenario (top) and
regular loss-scenario (bottom) .............. 33
Figure 9 Estimated cumulative waste volumes of end-
of-life PV panels by top five countries in 2050
by early-loss scenario (top) and regular-loss
scenario (bottom) ........................... 35
Figure 10 Evolution to 2030 of materials used for
different PV panel technologies as a
percentage of total panel mass ..............41
Figure 11 Process flow diagram of the life cycle stages
for PV panels and resulting opportunities for
reducing, reusing or recycling ............... 47
Figure 12 World overview of PV panel producers and
cumulative installed PV capacity .............51
Figure 13 End-of-life PV panel waste volumes for
Germany to 2050 ............................60
Figure 14 Collective producer responsibility system for
end-of-life management of B2C PV panels . 62
Figure 15 End-of-life PV panel waste volumes
for the UK to 2050 ...........................64
Figure 16 End-of-life PV panel waste for Japan to 2050 . 66
Figure 17 Comparison of PV panel end-of-life scenarios
for Japan .....................................66
Figure 18 FAIS PV panel recycling system .............68
Figure 19 End-of-life PV panel waste volumes for the US
to 2050 .......................................69
Figure 20 End-of-life PV panel waste volumes for China
to 2050 ........................................71
Figure 21 Comparison of PV panel end-of-life scenarios
for China ......................................71
Figure 22 End-of-life PV panel waste volumes for India to
2050 ......................................... 73
Figure 23 Preferred options for PV waste management .. 75
Figure 24 Relative material content (%) of a c-Si PV panel . 78
Figure 25 Historic and expected specific silver
consumption per watt-peak ................. 78
Figure 26 Projected rooftop and utility-scale PV
deployment in 2030 compared to 2015 .....80
Figure 27 Process for laminated glass recycling ....... 82
Figure 28 Recycling scheme proposed by NEDO/FAIS ... 83
Figure 29 Thin-film recycling process ..................84
Figure 30 Loser Chemie recycling process .............84
Figure 31 End-of-life recovery potential under regular-
loss scenario to 2030 ....................... 85
Figure 32 Potential value creation through PV end-of-life
management to 2030 .......................86
Figure 33 Potential value creation through PV end-of-life
management to 2050 ....................... 87
Figure 34 Industry value creation for
end-of-life PV management .................88
Tab le 1 Projected cumulative PV capacity, 2015-2050,
based on IRENA (2016) and IEA (2014) ....25
Table 2 PV panel loss model methodology for step 1a . 26
Table 3 PV panel loss model methodology for step 1b . 27
Table 4 PV panel loss model methodology for step 2 ..29
Table 5 Overview of Weibull shape factors reported
in the literature for modelling PV panel loss
probability alongside baseline values selected
for use in this study ......................30
Table 6 Modelled results of estimated cumulative
waste volumes of end-of-life PV panels by
country (t) ..............................34
Table 7 Market share of PV panels by technology
groups (2014-2030) .....................37
Table 8 Top ten PV panel manufacturers in 2015 ...38
Table 9 PV waste characterisation: Leaching test
methods in the US, Germany and Japan ...44
Table 10 Examples of waste codes relevant to PV panels
from the EU List of Wastes ...............45
Tab le 11 Annual collection and recovery targets
(% mass) under the WEEE Directive .......54
Table 12 Stiftung EAR factors for calculating
guaranteed sum for PV panels .............61
Table 13 World production of mineral commodities
used in PV panels, 2015 ..................87
Box 1 An overview of IRENA’s REmap - a global
renewable energy roadmap ..............24
Box 2 An overview of the IEA's PV technology
roadmap to 2050 .......................24
Box 3 Uncertainty analysis ......................31
Box 4 c-Si PV panel components ................ 39
Box 5 Thin-film PV panel components ...........40
Box 6 Financing models for collection, treatment,
recovery, recycling and disposal of PV panels . 49
Box 7 Definition of producers under the WEEE
Directive ...............................53
Box 8 EU end-of-life management through ‘high-
value recycling’ .........................55
Box 9 Financing framework under the WEEE
Directive ............................... 57
Box 10 Overview of Stiftung EAR clearing-house
activities ...............................60
Box 11 Outlook for Germany ....................63
Box 12 UK WEEE legislation: Creation of a separate
category for PV panels ...................65
Box 13 Outlook for the UK ......................65
Box 14 Japan's PV panel waste projections .......66
Box 15 R&D on PV panel recycling in Japan .......68
Box 16 Outlook for Japan .......................69
Box 17 Outlook for the US ......................70
Box 18 China's PV panel waste projections .........71
Box 19 Outlook for China .......................72
Box 20 Outlook for India ........................73
Box 21 Definition of resource and material efficiency . 76
Box 22 Silver components. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
Box 23 Innovative treatment processes for
thin-film PV panels ......................84
Box 24 Socio-economic benefits of the WEEE
Directive in the EU .......................89
a-Si amorphous silicon
B2B business-to-business
B2C business-to-consumer
BIPV building-integrated PV
c-Si crystalline silicon
CIGS copper indium gallium (di)selenide
CdTe cadmium telluride
CIS copper indium selenide
CO2 carbon dioxide
CU-PV Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands
EEE electrical and electronic equipment
EPR extended producer responsibility
EVA ethylene vinyl acetate
GW gigawatts
IEA International Energy Agency
IEA PVPS International Energy Agency Photovoltaic
Power System Programme
IEE Institute for Electrical Engineering of the
National Academy of Sciences, China
IRENA International Renewable Energy Agency
ISE (Fraunhofer) Institute for Solar Energy
Systems, Germany
ITRPV International Technology Roadmap for
JNNSM Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar
Mission, India
kg kilogramme
kW kilowatt
L litre
METI Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry,
mg milligramme
MOE Ministry of Environment, Japan
MW megawatt
NEDO New Energy and Industrial Technology
Development Organization, Japan
NREL National Renewable Energy Laboratory, US
PAYG pay-as-you-go
PAYP pay-as-you-put
PV photovoltaic
R&D research and development
t metric tonne
W watt
Wp watt-peak
WEEE waste electrical and electronic equipment
essential in the world’s transition to a sustainable,
economically viable and increasingly renewables-
based energy future. To unlock the benefits of such
industries, the institutional groundwork must be laid
in time to meet the expected surge in panel waste.
This report presents the first global projections
for future PV panel waste volumes to 2050. It
investigates and compares two scenarios for global
PV panel waste volumes until 2050.
Regular-loss: Assumes a 30-year lifetime for solar
panels, with no early attrition
Early-loss: Takes account of “infant”, “mid-life” and
“wear-out” failures before the 30-year lifespan
Solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment has grown at
unprecedented rates since the early 2000s. Global
installed PV capacity reached 222 gigawatts (GW)
at the end of 2015 and is expected to rise further
to 4,500 GW by 2050. Particularly high cumulative
deployment rates are expected by that time in China
(1,731 GW), India (600 GW), the United States (US)
(600 GW), Japan (350 GW) and Germany (110 GW).
As the global PV mar ket increases, so will t he volume
of decommissioned PV panels. At the end of 2016,
cumulative global PV waste streams are expected to
have reached 43,500-250,000 metric tonnes. This
is 0.1%-0.6% of the cumulative mass of all installed
panels (4 million metric tonnes). Meanwhile, PV waste
streams are bound to only increase further. Given an
average panel lifetime of 30 years, large amounts
of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s.
These are equivalent to 4% of installed PV panels in
that year, with waste amounts by the 2050s (5.5-6
million tonnes) almost matching the mass contained
in new installations (6.7 million tonnes).
Growing PV panel waste presents a new
environmental challenge, but also unprecedented
opportunities to create value and pursue new
economic avenues. These include recovery of raw
material and the emergence of new solar PV end-
of-life industries. Sectors like PV recycling will be
The world’s total annual electrical and electronic
waste (e-waste) reached a record of 41.8 million
metric tonnes in 2014. Annual global PV panel waste
was 1,000 times less in the same year. Yet by 2050,
the PV panel waste added annually could exceed
10% of the record global e-waste added in 2014.
As the analysis contained in this report shows,
the challenges and experiences with e-waste
management can be turned into opportunities for
PV panel waste management in the future.
PV panel waste and global e-waste
Policy action is needed to address the challenges
ahead, with enabling frameworks being adapted
to the needs and circumstances of each region or
count ry. Countries with the most ambitious PV targets
are expected to account for the largest shares of global
PV waste in the future, as outlined by case studies
Cumulative waste volumes of top five countries for of end-of-life PV panels in 2050
Overview of global PV panel waste projections, 2016-2050
in this report. By 2030 the top three countries for
cumulative projected PV waste are projected to include
China, Germany and Japan. At the end of 2050 China is
still forecast to have accumulated the greatest amount
of waste but Germany is overtaken by the United States
of America (US). Japan comes next followed by India.
At present, only the European Union (EU) has
adopted PV-specific waste regulations. Most
countries around the world classify PV panels as
general or industrial waste. In limited cases, such
as in Japan or the US, general waste regulations
may include panel testing for hazardous material
content as well as prescription or prohibition of
specific shipment, treatment, recycling and disposal
pathways. The EU, however, has pioneered PV
electronic waste (e-waste) regulations, which cover
PV-specific collection, recovery and recycling
targets. Based on the extended-producer-
responsibility principle, the EU Waste Electrical and
Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive requires all
producers supplying PV panels to the EU market
(wherever they may be based) to finance the costs of
collecting and recycling end-of-life PV panels put on
the market in Europe. Lessons can be learned from
the experience of the EU in creating its regulatory
framework to help other countries develop locally
appropriate approaches.
End-of-life management could become a significant
component of the PV value chain.1 As the findings of
the report underline, recycling PV panels at their end-
of-life can unlock a large stock of raw materials and
other valuable components. The recovered material
injected back into the economy can serve for the
production of new PV panels or be sold into global
commodity markets, thus increasing the security of
future raw material supply. Preliminary estimates
suggest that the raw materials technically recoverable
from PV panels could cumulatively yield a value of
up to USD 450 million (in 2016 terms) by 2030. This
is equivalent to the amount of raw materials currently
needed to produce approximately 60 million new
panels, or 18 GW of power-generation capacity. By
2050, the recoverable value could cumulatively exceed
USD 15 billion, equivalent to 2 billion panels, or 630 GW.
1. The valu e creation in different se gments of the solar value cha in has
been studied in IRENA’s publications “The Socio-economic Benefits
of Solar and Wind” (2014) and “Renewable Energy Benefits:
Leveraging Local Industries” (2016 forthcoming).
Potential value creation through PV end-of-life management
End-of-life management for PV panels will spawn
new industries, can support considerable economic
value creation, and is consistent with a global
shift to sustainable long-term development. New
industries arising from global PV recycling can yield
employment opportunities in the public and private
sectors. In the public sector, jobs may be created in
local governments responsible for waste management,
Rapid global PV growth is expected to generate a
robust secondary market for panel components
and materials. Early failures in the lifetime of a panel
present repair and reuse opportunities. Repaired
PV panels can be resold on the world market at a
reduced market price. Even partly repaired panels or
components might find willing buyers in a second-
hand market. This secondary market presents an
important opportunity for buyers in countries with
limited financial resources which still want to engage
in the solar PV sector.
As current PV installations reach the final
decommissioning stage, recycling and material
recovery will be preferable to panel disposal. The
nascent PV recycling industry typically treats end-
of-life PV panels through separate batch runs within
existing general recycling plants,. This allows for
material recovery of major components. Examples
include glass, aluminium and copper for c-Si panels
that can be recovered at cumulative yields greater
than 85% of total panel mass. In the long term,
dedicated panel recycling plants can increase
treatment capacities and maximise revenues owing
to better output quality and the ability to recover a
Preferred options for PV waste management
such as municipalities and public waste utilities, but
also public research institutes. Solar PV producers
and specialised waste management companies may
become the main employment beneficiaries in the
private sector. Opportunities could also emerge in
developing or transitioning economies, where waste
collection and recycling services are often dominated
by informal sectors. Here, PV waste management
systems could generate additional employment,
especially in the repair/reuse and recycling/treatment
industries, while encouraging better overall PV waste
management practices.
PV end- of-life management also offers
opportunities relating to each of the ‘three Rs’
of sustainable waste management:
As research and development (R&D) and
technological advances continue with a maturing
industry, the composition of panels is expected
to require less raw material. Today, two-thirds of
globally manufactured PV panels are crystalline
silicon (c-Si). These are typically composed of more
than 90% glass, polymer and aluminium, which are
classified as non-hazardous waste. However, the same
panels also include such hazardous materials as silver,
tin and lead traces. Thin-film panels, by comparison,
are over 98% non-hazardous glass, polymer and
aluminium, combined with around 2% copper and zinc
(potentially hazardous) and semiconductor or other
hazardous materials.
These include indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium,
tellurium and lead. Hazardous materials are typically
subject to rigorous treatment requirements with
specific classifications depending on the jurisdiction.
By 2030, given current trends in R&D and panel
efficiency, the raw material inputs for c-Si and thin-
film technologies could be reduced significantly.
This would decrease the use of hazardous and rare
materials in the production process and consequently
improve the recyclability and resource recovery
potential of end-of-life panels.
greater fraction of embodied materials. PV-specific
panel recycling technologies have been researched
and implemented to some extent for the past decade.
Learning from past, ongoing and future research is
important to enable the development of specialised,
cost- and material recovery-efficient recycling plants.
Technical and regulatory systems, however, need
to be established to guarantee that PV panel waste
streams are sufficiently large for profitable operation.
Industry, governments and other stakeholders need
to prepare for the anticipated waste volumes of solar
PV panels in the following three main ways:
Adopt PV-specific waste regulations
Sustainable end-of-life management policies for
PV panels can be achieved through an enabling
regulatory framework, along with the institutions
needed to implement it. Addressing the growth of
PV waste and enabling related value creation will not
be easy in the absence of legally binding end-of-life
standards specific to PV panels. The development
of PV-specific collection and recycling regulations,
including recycling and treatment standards for
PV panels, will be crucial to consistently, efficiently
and profitably deal with increasing waste volumes.
Furthermore, waste regulations or policies can
promote more sustainable life cycle practices and
improve resource efficiency. Lessons learned from the
experiences summarised in this report can help guide
the development of regulatory approaches.
More data and analyses are needed at the national
level to support the establishment of suitable
regulatory and investment conditions. As a first
step, accurate assessments of waste panel markets
will require better statistical data than is currently
available. This should include regular reporting and
monitoring of PV panel waste systems, with amounts
of waste produced by country and technology;
composition of this waste stream; and other aspects
of PV waste management. In addition, installed
system performance and, in particular, the causes and
frequency of system failures should be reported to
provide clearer estimates of future end-of-life panel
waste. The resulting country-level waste and system
performance data would improve the viability of how
PV panel waste management is organised, expand
knowledge of material recovery potential and provide
a foundation for sound regulatory frameworks.
Further data to assess the full range of value creation,
including socio-economic benefits, will also help to
stimulate end-of-life market growth for solar PV.
Expand waste management infrastructure
Management schemes for PV waste should be
adapted to the unique conditions of each country
or region. As case studies on Germany and the
United Kingdom show, different waste management
frameworks have emerged from the national
implementation of the EU WEEE Directive. These
experiences can provide a variety of lessons and
best practices from which other PV markets can
benefit. Rapidly expanding PV markets such as
Japan, India and China still lack specific regulations
covering PV panel waste. However, they have started
preparing for future waste streams through R&D
and the establishment of long-term policy goals. In
the absence of sufficient waste volumes or country-
specific technical know-how, regional markets for
waste management and recycling facilities also help
to maximise value creation from PV waste.
Co-ordination mechanisms between the energy and
waste sectors are essential to supporting PV end-of-
life management. A wide array of energy stakeholders
is usually involved in the decommissioning stage of
a PV project, which includes dismantling, recycling
and disposal. These stakeholders include project
developers, construction companies, panel producers
and others. Traditionally, the waste sector has only
been involved in a limited way (e.g. disposal of PV
panel waste at landfill sites and/or with general
waste treatment). However, with increasing waste
volumes and related recycling opportunities, waste
management companies will become an important
player in PV end-of-life activities. This is already
the case in several EU countries. In accordance with
the extended-producer-responsibility principle,
producers in these countries provide the financing
for waste management and delegate the treatment
and recycling of PV panels to the waste sector. The
development of industrial clusters that promote
co-operation across energy and waste sector
stakeholders can be effective in stimulating innovation
and contributing to spillover effects.
Promote ongoing innovation
R&D and skills development are needed to support
additional value creation from PV end-of-life
panels. Considerable technological and operational
knowledge about PV panel end-of-life management
already exists in many countries. This can guide
the development of effective waste management
solutions, helping to address the projected large
increase in PV panel waste. Pressure to reduce PV
panel prices is already driving more efficient mass
production and material use, material substitutions,
and the introduction of new, higher-efficiency
technologies. To improve even further, additional
skills development is needed. Research and education
programmes are critical to not only achieve the
technical goals but also train the next generation
of scientists, engineers, technicians, managers etc.
Such jobs will be required to develop the technical,
regulatory, logistics and management systems
necessary to maximise value extracted from growing
PV waste streams. In addition, specific education
and training on PV panel repairs can help to extend
the lifetime of PV panels that show early failures.
Material recycling for PV panels faces another
barrier: recovered raw materials often lack the quality
needed to achieve maximum potential value because
recycling processes are not fully developed. Increased
R&D for PV panel end-of-life treatment technologies
and techniques could help close this gap and enable
improved and efficient recovery of raw materials and
components. Just as importantly, technological R&D
must be coupled with prospective techno-economic
and environmental analyses to maximise societal
returns, minimise detrimental outcomes and avoid
unintended consequences.
In the years ahead, policy-makers and PV
stakeholders must prepare for the rise of panel
waste and design systems to capitalise on the
resulting opportunities. Unlocking end-of-life value
from PV panels calls for targeted actions like those
described above and, most importantly, appropriately
designed frameworks and regulations. With the right
conditions in place, end-of-life industries for solar PV
can thrive as an important pillar of the infrastructure
for a sustainable energy future.
The deployment of PV technology has grown
dramatically in recent years, reaching a cumulative
global installed capacity of 222 GW at the end of 2015
(IRENA, 2016b). PV offers economic a nd environmentally
friendly electricity production but like any technology
it ages and ultimately requires decommissioning
(which includes dismantling, recycling and disposal).
As PV increasingly becomes a global commodity,
and to ensure its sustainable future, stakeholders
involved with each step of the product life cycle must
implement sound environmental processes and policies,
including responsible end-of-life treatment. Regulatory
frameworks that support the early development of life
cycle management techniques and technologies will
foster such processes and policies.
This report aims to look ahead of the curve, projecting
future PV panel waste volumes in leading solar markets
and distilling lessons from current PV waste management
approaches. The intention is that other countries can then
move faster up the learning curve with technological and
regulatory systems dealing with PV panel waste.
In mature and saturated markets for products like
automobiles in Europe or the US, the ratio of waste
to new products is more or less constant. By contrast,
the ratio of waste panels to new installed panels
is currently very low at 0.1% (around 43,500 metric
tonnes of waste, and 4 million metric tonnes of 2. Assuming 80-100 metric tonnes (t) per megawatt (MW ). See
Chapter 2.
new installations estimated by end of 2016).2 This is
because the global PV market is still young, and PV
systems typically last 30 years. Findings in this report
show that a large increase in PV waste is projected
to emerge globally around 2030. Some regions, like
the EU, will start generating important waste volumes
earlier because of their larger-scale adoption of PV
since the 1990s. The proportion of global PV panel
waste to new installations is estimated to increase
steadily over time, reaching 4%-14% in 2030 and
climbing to over 80% in 2050.
End-of-life management with material recovery is
preferable to disposal in terms of environmental
impacts and resource efficiency as a way to manage
end-of-life PV systems. When recycling processes
themselves are efficient, recycling not only reduces
waste and waste-related emissions but also offers the
potential for reducing the energy use and emissions
related to virgin-material production. This could be
particularly significant for raw materials with high
levels of impurities (e.g. semiconductor precursor
material), which often require energy-intensive pre-
treatment to achieve required purity levels. Recycling
is also important for long-term management of
resource-constrained metals used in PV.
The PV recycling industry is expected to expand
significantly over the next 10-15 years. Annual end-of-
life PV panel waste is projected to increase to more
than 60-78 million metric tonnes cumulatively by 2050
according to this report’s model. This increasing scale
should improve the cost-effectiveness and energy/
resource efficiency of recycling while stimulating the
technical innovations needed to handle the wide variety
of materials used in fast-evolving PV technologies.
This report highlights and demonstrates the
importance and benefit of developing flexible
regulatory frameworks. They ensure sustainable PV
end-of-life management, and enable economically
and environmentally efficient processes and
technologies for product and material recovery
processes. They stimulate associated socio-economic
benefits like recovery of valuable materials, and foster
new industries and employment.
As the first region witnessing large-scale PV
deployment, the EU started to promote sustainable PV
life cycle manageme nt in the early 2000s. The volunt ary
extended-producer-responsibility (EPR)3 initiative PV
CYCLE (PV CYCLE, 2016) was one example. This has
led to the development of pilot and industrial-scale
recycling facilities as well as the first comprehensive
legal framework on PV panels: the Waste Electrical
and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of 2012
(European Parliament and Council, 2012).4 In other parts
of the world, little specific legislation for handling end-
of-life PV panels yet exists, and waste is handled under
each country’s legislative and regulatory framework for
general waste treatment and disposal.
3. The OECD defines EPR as an environmental policy approach
in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to
the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. An EPR policy
is characterised by (1) shifting responsibility (physically and/or
economically; fully or partially) upstream towards the producers
and away from governments and ( 2) the provision of incentives to
producers to take into account environmental considerations when
designing their products (OECD, 2015).
4. In the context of the WEEE Directive, PV panels have been clearly
defined as pieces of electrical equipment designed with the
sole purpose of generating electricit y from sunlight for public,
commercial, industrial, rural, and residential applications—the
definition excludes balance-of-system components (such as
inverters, mounting structures, and
The purpose of this joint IRENA and IEA-PVPS Task
12 report is to communicate existing technological
and regulatory knowledge and experience, including
best practice related to PV panel end-of-life waste
management. The report also identifies opportunities
for value creation from end-of-life PV by analysing
potential environmental and socio-economic benefits
based on novel projections of PV panel waste to 2050.
The report consists of five main chapters.
Chapter 2 provides predictions of global PV growth
which act as the baseline for quantifying future
PV panel waste streams (globally and for specific
countries). These results provide the context and
motivation for the waste management policies and
recycling technologies described in the remainder of
the report.
Chapter 3 characterises the materials embodied in the
different types of PV panels along with corresponding
regulatory waste classification considerations that
determine required treatment and disposal pathways
for PV panels.
Chapter 4 describes general PV waste management
options, explaining general waste management
principles and the difference between voluntary and
legal approaches. This is followed by summaries
of country-specific current approaches to waste
management in Chapter 5, including case studies
of major current and future PV markets. These are
Germany, the UK, the US, Japan, China and India.
Chapter 6 covers value creation from end-of-life PV by
analysing opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle,
as well as resulting socio-economic benefits.
Finally, Chapter 7 outlines the conclusions and way
PV panel waste streams will increase alongside
worldwide PV deployment. This publication is the first
to quantify potential PV panel waste streams in the
period until 2050.
As outlined in Figure 1, a three-step approach is
used to quantify PV panel waste over time. First, this
In 2015 capacity to generate renewable energy
increased by 8.3% or 152 GW, the highest annual
growth rate on record (IRENA, 2016b). Global solar PV
capacity added in 2015 made up 47 GW of this increase,
cumulatively reaching 222 GW at the end of 2015, up
from 175 GW in 2014 (IRENA, 2016b). The bulk of these
new installations was in non-traditional PV markets,
consolidating the shift in major PV players. Traditional
Figure 1 Approach to estimating PV panel waste
PV markets such as Europe and North America grew
5.2% and 6.3% in 2015 respectively. By contrast, Latin
America and the Caribbean grew at a rate of 14.5%, and
Asia at a rate of 12.4%. Asia alone thereby witnessed a
50% increase in solar PV capacity in 2015, with 15 GW of
new PV capacity installed in China and another 10 GW
in Japan. Main global PV leaders today include China
(43 GW of cumulative installed capacity), Germany (40
GW), Japan (33 GW) and the US (25 GW).
chapter analyses trends and future global solar PV
growth rates from 2010 to 2050, which is a main input
to waste volume estimation. Next, the PV panel waste
model and main methodology used in this report are
explained. The last section summarises the findings
and provides PV panel waste predictions globally and
by country.
To account for current and future waste streams for
solar PV, global PV growth rates were projected until
2050. These rely on results from previous work on PV
forecasts by both IRENA and the IEA. For projections
to 2030, REmap (see Box 1), IRENA’s roadmap for
doubling the global share of renewables, was used
(IRENA, 2016a). For 2030-2050, the projections
are based on IEA’s Technology Roadmap on Solar
Photovoltaic Energy (see Box 2) (IEA, 2014).
IRENA’s roadmap shows feasible, cost-effective
ways to double renewables from 18% to 36% in
the world’s total final energy consumption by
2030. This is based on an in-depth analysis of the
energy transition in 40 economies, representing
80% of global energy use. For each technology,
including solar PV, power capacity deployment
is calculated from the reference year 2010 in
five-year increments to 2030. This takes into
consideration existing technologies, their costs
and the available timeframe.
The REmap analysis finds that doubling the
renewables share is not only feasible but
cheaper than not doing so once health and
environmental factors are taken into account.
The accelerated energy transition can boost
economic growth, save millions of lives and
combined with energy efficiency helps limit the
global temperature increase to 2° Celsius in line
with the Paris Agreement. To meet that goal,
however, renewable energy deployment needs
to happen six times faster. For decision-makers
in the public and private sectors alike, this
roadmap sends out an alert on the opportunities
at hand and the costs of not taking them (IRENA,
To achieve the necessary reductions in energy-
related CO2 emissions, the IEA has developed
a series of global technology roadmaps under
international guidance and in close consultation
with industry. The overall aim is to adva nce global
development and uptake of key technologies to
limit the global mean temperature increase to
2° Celsius in the long term. The roadmaps are
not forecasts. Instead, they detail the expected
technology improvement targets and the policy
actions required to achieve that vision by 2050.
The PV Technology Roadmap is one of 21 low-
carbon technology roadmaps and one of nine
for electricity generation technologies. Based
on the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives
(2014), this roadmap envisages the PV
contribution to global electricity reaching 16%
by 2050. This is an increase from 135 GW in 2013
to a maximum of 4,674 GW installed PV capacity
in 2050. The roadmap assumes that the costs
of electricity from PV in different parts of the
world will converge as markets develop. This
implies an average cost reduction of 25% by
2020, 45% by 2030 and 65% by 2050, leading
to USD 40-160 per megawatt-hour, assuming a
cost of capital of 8%. To achieve the vision in this
roadmap, the total PV capacity installed each
year needs to rise rapidly from 36 GW in 2013
to 124 GW per year on average. It would peak
to 200 GW per year between 2025 and 2040.
The vision is consistent with global CO2 prices of
USD 46/t CO2 in 2020, USD 115/t CO2 in 2030
and USD 152/t CO2 in 2040 (IEA, 2014).
As shown in Figure 2, global cumulative PV
deployment accelerated after 2010 and is expected to
grow exponentially, reaching 1,632 GW in 2030 and
about 4,512 GW in 2050.
Box 1 An overview of IRENA’s REmap – a
global renewable energy roadmap
Box 2 An overview of the IEA's PV Technology
Roadmap to 2050
Figure 2 Projected cumulative global PV capacity
Table 1 Projected cumulative PV capacity, 2015-2050, based on IRENA (2016) and IEA (2014)
Based on IRENA (2016) and IEA (2014)
To develop annual estimates of PV capacity between 2016
and 2030, an interpolation was made between IRENA’s
REmap estimates for 2015, 2020 and 2030. To achieve
this, an average annual growth rate was calculated
between each five-year period, amounting to 8.92%. In
some selected countries, the individual growth rates may
be adjusted higher or lower due to political and economic
uncertainties foreseen. To extend the model projection
to 2050, more conservative growth projections were
assumed for 2030-2050 with annual growth rate of about
2.5%. This extrapolation was matched with the forecast of
the IEA’s PV Technology Roadmap.
The final projections of global PV growth to 2050 are
shown in Table 1 and were used to model global waste
streams in the next chapter.
Yea r 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050
Cumulative installed
PV capacity (GW) 222 511 954 1,632 2,225 2,895 3,654 4,512
The objective of this repo rt is to quantify future PV panel
waste streams. Most waste is typically generated during
four primary life cycle phases of any given PV panel.
These are 1) panel production 2) panel transportation
3) panel installation and use, and 4) end-of-life disposal
of the panel. The following waste forecast model covers
all life cycle stages except production. This is because
it is assumed that production waste is easily managed,
collected and treated by waste treatment contractors
or manufacturers themselves and thus not a societal
waste management issue.
Future PV panel waste streams can be quantified
according to the model described in Figure 3. The two
main input factors are the conversion and probability
of losses during the PV panel life cycle (step 1a and
1b). They are employed to model two waste stream
scenarios using the Weibull function, the regular-loss
and the early- loss scenario (step 2).
Figure 3 Two-step PV panel waste model
The next section provides a step-by-step guide showing details of the methodology and underlying assumptions.
Step 1a: Conversion of capacity to PV panel mass (from gigawatts to metric tonnes)
Table 2 PV panel loss model methodology for step 1a
Data input and references
• Standard panel 1990-2013 data sheets (Photon, 2015)
are used to extract supporting data for the exponential
fit. Typical panel data were used in five-year periods
from the biggest producers (Arco Solar, BP Solar,
Kyocera, Shell Solar, Sharp, Siemens Solar, Solarex,
Solarworld, Trina and Yingli).
• Standard panel data are predicted using the 2014
International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic
(ITRPV) as a baseline (Raithel, 2014) as well as other
literature (Berry, 2014; IEA, 2014; IRENA, 2014; Marini et
al., 2014; Lux Research, 2013 and Schubert, Beaucarne
and Hoornstra, 2013).
• The model's exponential regression function converts
gigawatts of PV capacity to metric tonnes of panel
For each year, the annual conversion factor is
To estimate PV panel waste volumes,5 installed
and projected future PV capacity (megawatts or
gigawatts-MW or GW) was converted to mass (metric
tonnes-t), as illustrated in Table 2. An average ratio of
mass of PV per unit capacity (t/MW) was calculated
by averaging available data on panel weight and
nominal power. For past PV panel production, the
nominal power and weight of representative standard
PV panel types was averaged from leading producers
over five-year intervals (Photon, 2015). The panel data
sheets of Arco, Siemens, BP, Solarex, Shell, Kyocera,
Sharp, Solarworld and Trina were considered.
5. Note that ‘volume’ is used interchangeably in this report with the
more accurate metric ‘mass’ despite the incongruence of units.
For future PV panel production, the data are based
on recent publications (Berry, 2014; IEA, 2014; IRENA,
2014; Marini, 2014; Raithel, 2014; Lux Research, 2013
and Schubert, Beaucarne and Hoornstra, 2013).
This report’s model includes a correction factor to
account for panels becoming more powerful and
lighter over time. This is due to optimisation of cell
and panel designs as well as weight reductions from
thinner frames, glass layers and wafers. The correction
6. In previous stu dies a constant factor of 1 00 t/MW was used as a f irst
approximation (Sander et al., 2007). This repor t’s approach is thus
more reflective of expected panel weight per capacity change.
factor is based on an exponential least-square fit
of weight-to-power ratio for historic and projected
future panels.6 Figure 4 shows how the weight-to-
power ratio is continuously reduced over time due
to further developments in PV technologies such as
material savings and improved solar cell efficiencies.
Figure 4 Exponential curve fit of projection of PV panel weight-to-power ratio (t/MW)
Table 3 PV panel loss model methodology for step 1b
Data input and references
Assumptions on early losses were based on reports
by TÜV, Dupont, SGS and others (IEA-PVPS, 2014a;
Padlewski, 2014; Vodermeyer, 2013; DeGraaff, 2011).
• Infant failure
• Midlife failure
• Wear-out failure
Step 1b: Probability of PV panel losses
The potential origin of failures for rooftop and ground-
mounted PV panels was analysed independently from
PV technology and application field to estimate the
probability of PV panels becoming waste before
reaching their estimated end-of-life targets. The three
main panel failure phases detected are shown in Table
3 (IEA-PVPS, 2014a):
Infant failures defined as occurring up to four years
after installation (average two years)
• Midlife failures defined as occurring about five to
eleven years after installation
Wear-out failures defined as occurring about 12
years after installation until the assumed end-of-life
at 30 years
Empirical data on causes and frequency of failures
during each of the phases defined above were
obtained from different literature (IEA-PVPS, 2014a;
Padlewski, 2014; Vodermayer, 2013 and DeGraaff,
2011). Independent of those phases, Figure 5 provides
an overview of the main causes of PV panel failure.
7. C-Si panels constituted the largest share of surveyed technologies.
The weight-to-power ratio was continuously reduced during
the development of the PV technology by material savings and
improved solar cell efficiencies (Photon, 2015).
Figure 5 Failure rates according to customer complaints
Based on IEA-PVPS (2014a)
The main infant failure causes include light-induced
degradation (observed in 0.5%-5% of cases), poor
planning, incompetent mounting work and bad support
constructions. Many infant failures have been reported
within the electrical systems such as junction boxes,
string boxes, charge controllers, cabling and grounding.
Causes of midlife failures are mostly related to the
degradation of the anti-reflective coating of the glass,
discoloration of the ethylene vinyl acetate, delamination
and cracked cell isolation.
Causes of frequently observed failures within all phases
in the first 12 years - after exposure to mechanical load
cycles (e.g. wind and snow loads) and temperatures
changes - include potential induced degradation,
contact failures in the junction box, glass breakage, loose
frames, cell interconnect breakages and diode defects.
In the wear-out phase, failures like those reported in the
midlife phase increase exponentially in addition to the
severe corrosion of cells and interconnectors. Previous
studies with statistical data on PV panel failures additionally
observe that 40% of PV panels inspected suffered from
at least one cell with microcracks. This defect is more
commonly reported with newer panels manufactured after
2008 due to the thinner cells used in production.
These failures and probability of loss findings, alongside
data from step 1a (conversion factors) are used to
estimate PV panel waste streams (step 2).
On the basis of step 1a and 1b, two PV waste scenarios
were defined (see Table 4) – the regular-loss scenario
and early-loss scenario.
Both scenarios are modelled using the Weibull
function as indicated in the formula below. The
probability of losses during the PV panel life cycle is
thereby determined by the shape factor α that differs
for the regular-loss and early-loss scenario.
Table 4 PV panel loss model methodology for step 2
Data input and references
• The 30-year average panel lifetime assumption was
taken from literature (Frischknecht et al., 2016).
• A 99.99% probability of loss was assumed as an
approximation to 100% for numerical reasons
using the Weibull function. The 40-year technical
lifetime assumption is based on depreciation times
and durability data from the construction industry
(Greenspec, 2016).
The early-loss input assumptions were derived
from different literature sources (IEA-PVPS, 2014a;
Padlewski, 2014; Vodermeyer, 2013; DeGraaff, 2011).
Regular-loss scenario input assumptions
• 30-year average panel lifetime
• 99.99% probability of loss after 40 years
extraction of Weibull model parameters from literature
data (see Table 5)
Early-loss scenario input assumptions
• 30-year average panel lifetime
• 99.99% probability of loss after 40 years
• Inclusion of supporting points for calculating non-
linear regression:
• installation/transport damages: 0.5%
• within first 2 years: 0.5%
• after 10 years: 2%
• after 15 years: 4%
• Calculation of Weibull parameters (see Table 5)
Step 2: Scenarios for annual waste stream estimation (regular-loss and early-loss scenarios)
Both scenarios assume a 30-year average panel
lifetime and a 99.99% probability of loss after 40 years.
A 30-year panel lifetime is a common assumption in
PV lifetime environmental impact analysis (e.g. in life
cycle assessments) and is recommended by the IEA-
PVPS (Frischknecht et al., 2016). The model assumes
that at 40 years at the latest PV panels are dismantled
for refurbishment and modernisation. The durability
of PV panels is thus assumed to be in line with average
building and construction product experiences such as
façade elements or roof tiles. These also traditionally
have a lifetime of 30-40 years.
Neither initial losses nor early losses were included in
the regular-loss scenario. The results from Kuitsche
(2010) are used directly, assuming an alpha shape
factor in this scenario of 5.3759 (see Table 5).
t = time in years
T = average lifetime
α = shape factor, which controls the typical
S shape of the Weibull curve
The formula is:
In the early-loss scenario, the following loss
assumptions are made based on an analysis of the
literature and expert judgement (IEA-PVPS, 2014a;
Padlewski, 2014; Vodermayer, 2013 and DeGraaff,
• 0.5% of PV panels (by installed PV capacity in MW)
is assumed to reach end-of-life because of damage
during transport and installation phases8
• 0.5% of PV panels will become waste within two
years due to bad installation
• 2% will become waste after ten years
• 4% will become waste after 15 years due to technical
The early-loss scenario includes failures requiring panel
replacement such as broken glass, broken cells or
ribbons and cracked backsheet with isolation defects.
However, only panels with serious functional or safety
defects requiring entire replacement are included,
while other defects that, for example, reduce power
output or create panel discoloration are ignored.
In the early-loss scenario, the shape factor was
calculated by a regression analysis between data
points from literature and also considered early
failures (see Table 5). The resulting alpha shape
factor of 2.4928 for the early-loss scenario is lower
than literature values presented. This is because it
includes early defects that yield higher losses in the
first 30 years and lower losses in later life should a
panel last longer.
For each scenario (regular-loss and early-loss), the
probability of failure value (alpha) is multiplied according
to the Weibull function by the weight of panels installed
in a given year. Since a bigger alpha value is used in
the regular-loss scenario, the curve ascends smoothly
and intersects with the early-loss scenario curve at
the nominal lifetime point of 30 years. In line with the
Weibull function and due to the different assigned alpha
parameters, regular-loss and early-loss scenarios have
the opposite effect after 30 years. Hence, the regular-
loss scenario indicates a higher probability of loss from
30 years on (see Figure 6).
Table 5 Overview of Weibull shape factors reported in the literature for modelling PV panel loss probability alongside
baseline values selected for use in this study
Weibull shape
Kumar & Sarkan
(Kumar, 2013)
This study
Lower 9.982 3.3 8.2
Upper 14.41 8 .748 4 12.8
5.3759 2.4928
8. Most PV system installers might have to purchase excess panels to
compensate for potential losses during transport and installation,
which was accounted for in this model. The model assumes that
0.5% of panels are lost in the initial period and is lower than the rate
assumed in Sander’s model (2007).
Figure 6 Example of Weibull curve with two dierent shape factors from Table 5
This study is the first to quantify PV panel waste at
a global scale and across different PV technologies.
This means the scenarios portrayed here should
be considered order of magnitude estimates and
directional rather than highly accurate or precise,
owing to the simple assumptions and lack of
statistical data. Further, they stimulate the need for
more assessments. This box gives a short overview
of the three main areas of uncertainty that could
affect the results and conclusions of the study. The
uncertainty related to the cumulative installed PV
capacity to 2050 is an input factor for the model
and therefore not further considered here.
First and foremost, the data available on PV panel
failure modes and mechanisms is only a small
fraction of the full number of panels installed
worldwide. This means the baseline assumptions
bear some uncertainties and will need to be refined
as more data become available. The rapid evolution
of PV materials and designs adds another level of
complexity and uncertainty to estimates.
Moreover, failure does not necessarily mean that a
panel will enter the waste stream at the given year
of failure. This is because some failures might not be
detected right away or may be tolerated for years.
For example, if a PV panel still produces some output,
even if lower than when initially commissioned,
Box 3 Uncertainty analysis
replacement may not be financially justified. Hence,
data available on the different determinants of the
end of a PV panel’s lifetime are often interlinked
with non-technical and system aspects that are very
difficult to predict.
The last major uncertainty relates to key
assumptions used to model the probability of PV
panel losses versus the life cycle of the panels
using the Weibull function. To calculate the Weibull
shape factors for this study’s regular-loss and early-
loss scenarios, existing literature was reviewed.
The results of the analysis are presented in Table
5. It is assumed that the early losses in the early-
loss scenario are constant into the future. In other
words, no learning to reduce premature losses
is taken into account. The model also excludes
repowering PV plants.
In summary, this study develops two scenarios
– regular-loss and early-loss – to account for the
above uncertainties about the mechanisms and
predicted timing of pa nel failures. To better estimate
potential PV panel waste streams in the future,
national and regional decisions on PV waste stream
regulation must include a monitoring and reporting
system. This will yield improved statistical data to
strengthen waste stream forecasts and enable a
coherent framework for policy regulations.
The above modelling produces PV panel waste
projections by country up to 2050. The next section
summarises the findings of the model.
Global PV panel waste outlook
Total annual e-waste in the world today accounts for 41.8
million t (Baldé, 2015). By comparison, projected annual
PV panel waste will account for no more than 250,000 t
by the end of 2016 according to the early-loss scenario
modelled in this report. This represents only 0.6% of total
e-waste today but the amount of global waste from PV
panels will rise significantly over the next years.
Figure 7 displays cumulative PV panel waste results
up to 2050.
• In the regular-loss scenario, the PV panel waste
accounts for 43,500 t by end 2016 with an increase
projected to 1.7 million t in 2030. An even more
drastic rise to approximately 60 million t could be
expected by 2050.
The early-loss scenario projection estimates much
higher total PV waste streams, with 250,000 t
alone by the end of 2016. This estimate would rise
to 8 million t in 2030 and total 78 million t in 2050.
This is because the early-loss scenario assumes a
higher percentage of early PV panel failure than
the regular-loss scenario.
Based on the best available information today, this
report suggests the actual future PV panel waste
volumes will most likely fall somewhere between the
regular-loss and early-loss values.
Figure 7 Estimated cumulative global waste volumes (million t) of end-of-life PV panels
Annual PV panel waste up to 2050 is modelled in Figure
8 by illustrating the evolution of PV panel end-of-life and
new PV panel installations as a ratio of the two estimates.
This ratio starts out low at 5% at the end of 2020, for
instance (i.e. in the early-loss scenario, annual waste of
220,000 t compared to 5 million t in new installations).
However, it increases over time to 4%-14 % in 2030 and
80%-89% in 2050. At that point, 5.5-6 million t of PV
panel waste (depending on scenario) is predicted in
comparison to 7 million t in new PV panel installations.
A feature of the Weibull curve shape factors for the
two modelled scenarios is that the estimated waste
of both scenarios intersects. The scenario predicting
greater waste panels in a given year then switches. The
intersection is projected to take place in 2046. This
modelling feature can be observed in Figure 8 which
shows the volume of PV panel waste amounting to over
80% of the volume of new installations as a result of the
early-loss scenario in 2050. The comparable figure for
the regular-loss scenario exceeds 88% in the same year.
Waste projections by country
Detailed PV panel waste estimates by selected
countries are displayed in Table 6 from 2016 up to
2050. The countries were chosen according to their
regional leadership when it comes to PV deployment
and expected growth.
The projections are modelled using the same
Weibull function parameters as the global estimates
Figure 8 Annually installed and end-of-life PV panels 2020-2050 (in % waste vs. t installed) by early-loss scenario
(top) and regular-loss scenario (bottom)
of the previous section. Projected waste volumes
of PV panels in individual countries are based on
existing and future annual installations and rely on
input data available for each country. The historic
cumulative installed PV capacity was used as
benchmark in each country alongside future
projections to 2030 using IRENA’s REmap and for
2030 to 2050 IEA's PV Technology Roadmap, with a
simple interpolation.
Table 6 Modelled results of estimated cumulative waste volumes of end-of-life PV panels by country (t)
Yea r 2016 2020 2030 2040 2050
China 5,000 15,000 8,000 100,000 200,000 1,500,000 2,800,000 7,000,000 13,500,000 19,900,000
Japan 7,000 35,000 15,000 100,000 200,000 1,000,000 1,800,000 3,500,000 6,500,000 7,600,000
India 1,000 2,500 2,000 15,000 50,000 325,000 620,000 2,300,000 4,400,000 7,500,000
Republic of Korea 600 3,000 1,500 10,000 25,000 150,000 300,000 820,000 1,500,000 2,300,000
Indonesia 510 45 100 5,000 15,000 30,000 325,000 600,000 1,700,000
Malaysia 20 100 100 650 2,000 15,000 30,000 100,000 190,000 300,000
Germany 3,500 70,000 20,000 200,000 400,000 1,000,000 2,200,000 2,600,000 4,300,000 4,300,000
Italy 850 20,000 5,000 80,000 140,000 500,000 1,000,000 1,200,000 2,100,000 2,200,000
France 650 6,000 1,500 25,000 45,000 200,000 400,000 800,000 1,500,000 1,800,000
United Kingdom 250 2,500 650 15,000 30,000 200,000 350,000 600,000 1,000,000 1,500,000
Turkey 30 70 100 350 1,500 11,000 20,000 100,000 200,000 400,000
Ukraine 40 450 150 2,500 5,000 25,000 50,000 100,000 210,000 300,000
Denmark 80 400 100 2,000 4,000 22,000 40,000 70,000 130,000 125,000
Russian Federation 65 65 100 350 1,000 12,000 20,000 70,000 150,000 200,000
North America
United States
of America 6,500 24,000 13,000 85,000 170,000 1,000,000 1,700,000 4,000,000 7,500,000 10,000,000
Mexico 350 800 850 1,500 6,500 30,000 55,000 340,000 630,000 1,500,000
Canada 350 1,600 700 7,000 13,000 80,000 150,000 300,000 650,000 800,000
Middle East
United Arab Emirates 010 50 100 3,000 9,000 20,000 205,000 350,000 1,000,000
Saudi Arabia 200 250 30 0 1,000 3,500 40,000 70,000 220,000 450,000 600,000
South Africa 350 550 450 3,500 8,500 80,000 150,000 400,000 750,000 1,000,000
Nigeria 150 200 250 650 2,500 30,000 50,000 200,000 400,000 550,000
Morocco 025 10 100 600 2,000 4,000 32,000 50,000 165,000
Australia 900 4, 500 2,000 17,000 30,000 145,000 300,000 450,000 900,000 950,000
Latin America and Caribbean
Brazil 10 10 40 100 2,500 8,500 18,000 160,000 300,000 750,000
Chile 150 200 250 1,500 4,000 40,000 70,000 200,000 400,000 500,000
Ecuador 10 15 15 100 250 3,000 5,000 13,000 25,000 35,000
Total World 43,500 250,000 100,000 850,000 1,700,000 8,000,000 15,000,000 32,000,000 60,000,000 78,000,000
Sum of Leading
Countries 2 8,060 187,255 72,160 668, 500 1,352,85 0 6,442,500 12,252,000 26,105,000 48,685,000 67,975,000
Rest of the World 15,440 62,745 27, 84 0 181,500 3 47,150 1,557,500 2,748,000 5,895,000 11,315,000 10,025,000
PV panel waste projections until 2030
The results modelled indicate that the highest
expected PV panel waste streams by 2030 are in Asia
with up to 3.5 million t accumulated, depending on
the scenario. Regional Asian champions in renewable
energy deployment will therefore also experience
the highest waste streams. For example, China will
have an estimated installed PV capacity of 420 GW
in 2030 and could accumulate between 200,000 and
1.5 million t in waste by the same year. Japan and
India follow, with projections of between 200,000
and 1 million t, and 50,000-325,000 t in cumulative
PV-waste by 2030 respectively.
Europe is predicted to present the second largest PV
waste market with projected waste of up to 3 million t
by 2030. Germany, with an anticipated 75 GW of PV
capacity, is forecasted to face between 400,000 and
1 million t of PV panel waste by 2030. Other future
significant PV waste markets are projected to include
Italy and France.
With an expected cumulative 240 GW in deployed PV
by 2030, the US will lead in terms of total installed
PV capacity in North America. It is projected to
generate waste between 170,000 and 1 million t by
then. Countries such as Canada (up to 80,000 t) and
Mexico (up to 30,000 t) will also experience rising PV
waste streams by 2030.
By 2030 Africa and Latin America are predicted to
also see expanding PV-waste volumes. South Africa
(8,500-80,000 t by 2030) and Brazil (2,500-8,500 t
by 2030) will be regional leaders in this respect. Other
significant PV-waste markets by 2030 will include the
Republic of Korea with cumulative waste of 25,000-
150,000 t and Australia with 30.000-145,000 t.
Waste volume surge in 2030-2050
Given the worldwide surge in PV deployment since
2010 and average lifetime and failure rates for panels,
waste volumes are cer tain to increase more rapidly af ter
2030. Whereas in 2030 the top three PV panel waste
countries are expected to include China, Germany
and Japan, the picture slightly changes by 2050. By
then, China is still predicted to have accumulated
the greatest amount of waste (13.5-20 million t).
However, Germany is overtaken by the US (7.5-10
million t), Japan is next (6.5-7.5 million t) and India
follows (4.4-7.5 million t). The regular-loss and early-
loss waste estimates by top five countries in 2030 and
2050 are displayed in Figure 9.
The analysis presented in this chapter develops
quantitative estimates for PV panel waste streams until
2050 by country and region as well as on a global scale.
At the same time, PV panels and consequently their
waste differ in composition and regulatory classification,
which will be discussed in the next chapter.
Figure 9 Estimated cumulative waste volumes of end-of-life PV panels by top five countries in 2050
by early-loss scenario (top) and regular-loss scenario (bottom)
PV panels create unique waste-management
challenges along with the increasing waste streams
forecast in Chapter 2. Apart from in the EU, end-of-life
treatment requirements across the world for PV panels
are set by waste regulations applying generically to
any waste rather than dedicated to PV.
Waste regulations are based on the classification
of waste. This classification is shaped according to
the waste composition, particularly concerning any
component deemed hazardous.
Waste classification tests determine permitted
and prohibited shipment, treatment, recycling and
disposal pathways. A comprehensive overview of
the widely varying global PV waste classification
is beyond the scope of this report. Instead, this
chapter characterises the materials contained in
PV panels and corresponding waste-classification
considerations. These determine the required
treatment and disposal pathways for PV panels
when other more specific waste classifications and
regulations are not applicable.
Table 7 Market share of PV panels by technology groups (2014-2030)
Technology 2014 2020 2030
92% 73.3% 44.8%
Poly- or multicrystalline
a-Si (amorph/micromorph)
Thin-film based Copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) 2% 5.2% 6.4%
Cadmium telluride (CdTe) 5% 5.2% 4.7%
Concentrating solar PV (CPV)
1.2% 0.6%
Organic PV/dye-sensitised cells (OPV) 5.8% 8.7%
Crystalline silicon (advanced c-Si) 8.7% 25.6%
CIGS alternatives, heavy metals
(e.g. perovskite), advanced III-V 0.6% 9.3%
Based on Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) (2014), Lux Research (2013) and author research
Technology trends
To achieve optimal waste treatment for the distinct PV
product categories, the composition of PV panels needs
to be taken into consideration. PV panels can be broken
down according to the technology categories shown in
Table 7. The different technology types typically differ
in terms of materials used in their manufacturing and
can contain varying levels of hazardous substances that
must be considered during handling and processing.
C-Si PV is the oldest PV technology and currently
dominates the market with around 92% of market
share (ISE, 2014). Multicrystalline silicon panels have
a 55% and monocrystalline silicon panels a 45% share
of c-Si technology respectively. Due to low efficiency
ratios, a-Si products have been discontinued in recent
years, and the market share nowadays is negligible.
The two thin-film PV panel technologies make up 7%
of the PV market, 2% for CIGS panels, and 5% for CdTe.
The following analysis will not pay any more attention
to CPV and other technologies because it only has a
low market share at less than 1%.
IRENA/IEA-PVPS estimates, 20169
Table 8 Top ten PV panel manufacturers in 2015
Thin-film Silicon-based
capacity (MW)
Trina Solar x 5,500
Canadian Solar x 4,500
Jinko Solar x 4,500
JA Solar x 3,500
Hanwha Q CELLS x 3,000
First Solar x 3,000
Yingli x 2,500
GCL System 2,000
Suntech Power x 2,000
Renesola x 1,500
Sum of top 10 PV panel manufacturers 32,000
9. Uncertainty is a core characteristic of PV manufacturing capacity data due to inaccurate or incomplete manufacturing and export data on
manufactuers discussed.
Although the market share of novel devices is predicted
to grow, mainstream products are expected to retain
market dominance up to 2030, especially c-Si panels (Lux
Research, 2013). As shown in Table 7, silicon technology
has great potential for improvement at moderate cost if
new process steps are implemented into existing lines. For
example, an increase in usage of hetero-junction cells is
predicted, providing higher efficiencies and performance
ratios. According to Lux Research (2013 and 2014), CIGS
technology has great potential for better efficiencies and
may gain market share while CdTe is not expected to
grow. In the long term, CIGS alternatives (e.g. replacing
indium and gallium with zinc and tin), heavy metal cells
including perovskite structures, and advanced III-V cells,
might take nearly 10% of market share. The same can be
said of OPV and dye-sensitised cells (Lux Research, 2014).
Recent reports indicate OPV has reached efficiencies of
11% and dye-sensitised cells 12% (IEA, 2014).
In line with a PV market heavily dominated by c-Si PV, all
the main panel manufacturers except for First Solar rely on
silicon-based PV panel technologies. In 2015, the top ten
manufacturers for PV panels represented 32 GW per year
of manufacturing capacity, which is around two-thirds of
the global PV market, estimated at 47 GW (see Table 8).
c-Si technology consists of slices of solar-grade
silicon, also known as wafers, made into cells
and then assembled into panels and electrically
The standard cell consists of a p-doped wafer
with a highly doped pn-junction. The surface is
usually textured and may show pyramid structures
(monocrystalline silicon) or random structures
(polycrystalline silicon) and an anti-reflective layer
to minimise the reflection of light.
c-Si (monocrystalline) panel, National Renewable
Energy Laboratory (NREL), 2016
To form an electric field, the front and back of the
cell are contacted using grid-pattern printed silver
and aluminium pastes. During a thermal process
known as firing, the aluminium diffuses into the
silicon and forms the back surface field. Advanced
cell concepts add further layers to the wafer and
utilise laser structuring and contacting to optimise
the efficiencies of the cell (Raithel, 2014).
Component trends
The various components of major PV panel technologies
will influence material and waste characterisation as well
c-Si (monocrystalline) panel, National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL), 2016
Box 4 c-Si PV panel components
as the economics of treatment pathways. As shown in
Boxes 4 and 5, the design of silicon-based and thin-film
panels differs, affecting their composition accordingly.
CIGS panels use high light absorption as a direct
semiconductor. Adjustment to the light spectrum
is made by varying the ratios of the different
elements in the compound semiconductor (e.g.
indium, gallium and selenium). The compound has
very good light absorption properties so much
thinner semiconductor layers are needed to achieve
similar efficiencies with C-Si panels (hence the
term thin-film). CIGS cells are deposited on a metal
back-contact (which can be composed of different
metals and alloys) on glass substrates. Deposits
on a steel carrier or polymer foil are also possible,
producing flexible designs and high throughputs in
roll-to-roll productions.
To form the junction needed for the PV effect, thin
layers of cadmium sulfide usually form the hetero-
transfer layers. Zinc oxide or other transparent
conducting oxides are used as a transparent front
contact, which may conta in traces of other elements
for better conductivity. Owing to the deposition of
the cell layers on the substrate, the surface requires
an encapsulation layer and front glass layer usually
made of solar glass. This mainly protects the layers
from long-term oxidation and degradation through
water ingress, for example. Cadmium sulfide is
needed as a buffer layer but it can be replaced
Thin-film (monolithic integration) panel, NREL, 2016
by cadmium-free materials like zinc, zinc oxide,
zinc selenide, zinc indium selenide or a chemical
dependent of indium selenide (Bekkelund, 2013).
Furthermore, CIGS panels contain cell absorbers
made of ‘chalcopyrite,’ a crystalline structure,
with the general formula Cu(In,Ga)(S,Se)2. Most
frequently, a mixed crystal compound copper
indium diselenide with various additions of gallium
(either copper indium selenid e or CIGS) is used in the
manufacturing process. The substitution of other
materials such as aluminium for indium, or silver for
copper is currently under investigation. However,
these variations will not be commercialised for
several years (Pearce, 2014).
Though CdTe panels may be grown both in
substrate and superstrate configurations, the
superstrate configuration is preferred for better
efficiencies (up to more than 17%). The transparent
conductive oxide, intermediate cadmium sulphide
(CdS) and CdTe layers, are deposited on the glass
superstrate. The typical thickness of the CdTe layer
today is 3 microns, which has the potential to be
reduced to one micron in the future. The back layer
can consist of copper/aluminium, copper/graphite
or graphite doped with copper. An encapsulation
layer laminates the back glass to the cell.
Box 5 Thin-film PV panel components
Thin-film panels consist of
thin layers of semiconducting
material deposited onto large
substrates such as glass,
polymer or metal.
Thin-film PV panel technologies
can be broken down to two
main categories, CIGS and CdTE.
A typical crystalline PV panel with aluminium
frame and 60 cells has a capacity of 270 watt-
peak (Wp) and weighs 18.6 kilogrammes (kg) (e.g.
Trina Solar TSM-DC05A.08). For a standard CdTe
panel, 110 Wp can be assumed on average for 12
kg weight (e.g. First Solar FS-4100). A CIGS panel
usually holds a capacity of 160 Wp and 20 kg
(e.g. Solar Frontier SF160-S).
Figure 10 Evolution to 2030 of materials used for dierent PV panel technologies as a percentage of total panel mass
Based on Marini et al., (2014); Pearce (2014); Raithel (2014); Bekkelund (2013); NREL (2011) and Sander et al., (2007)
Crystalline silicon PV panels
By weight, typical c-Si PV panels today contain about
76% glass (panel surface), 10% polymer (encapsulant
and backsheet foil), 8% aluminium (mostly the frame),
5% silicon (solar cells), 1% copper (interconnectors)
and less than 0.1% silver (contact lines) and other
metals (mostly tin and lead) (Sander et al., 2007 and
Wambach and Schlenker, 2006).
Industry trend studies such as the International
Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaic (ITRPV)
suggest new process technologies will prevail,
encouraging thinner and more flexible wafers as well
as more complex and manifold cell structures. These
will require new interconnection and encapsulation
techniques. For example, bifacial cell concepts offer
high efficiencies in double glass panels made of two
glass panes each two millimetres thick . An encapsulant
layer reduction of up to 20% is possible owing to
thinner wafers. Cells with back-contacts and metal
wrap-through technologies that reduce shadow and
electrical losses (known as hetero-junction concept
cells) are equally expected to gain significant market
share (Raithel, 2014).
By 2030 the glass content of c-Si panels is predicted to
increase by 4% to a total of 80% of the weight’s panel.
The main material savings will include a reduction
in silicon from 5% down to 3%, a 1% decrease in
aluminium and a very slight reduction of 0.01% in other
Research on the PV components concludes that
progress in material savings and panel efficiencies will
drive a reduction in materials use per unit of power and
the use of potentially hazardous substances (Marini et al.
(2014); Pearce (2014); Raithel (2014); Bekkelund (2013);
NREL (2011) and Sander et al., (2007)). On this basis,
Figure 10 compares the materials employed for the main
PV panel technologies between 2014 and 2030.
metals. Specific silver consumption is expected to be
further decreased by better metallisation processes
and replacements with copper or nickel/copper layers
(Raithel, 2014).
In today’s market, the most efficient panels with back
junction-interdigitated back-contacts have shown
efficiencies of about 21%. Hetero-junction technologies
have achieved 19%. The average efficiency of a c-Si
panel has grown by about 0.3% per year in the last ten
years (Raithel, 2014).
a-Si PV panels have lost significant market share in
recent years and do not contain significant amounts
of valuable or hazardous materials (see Figure 10).
Thus, they will most likely not require special waste
treatment in the future. This section and the rest of
the report therefore does not cover a-Si panels.
In multi-junction cell design, two (tandem) or more
cells are arranged in a stack. In all cases the upper
cell(s) have to be transparent in a certain spectrum
to enable the lower cells to be active. By tailoring the
spectrum sensitivity of the individually stacked cells,
a broader range of sunlight can be absorbed, and the
total efficiency maximised. Such cell types are used in
a-Si, c-Si and concentrator cells. The low cost of c-Si
today allows cost-efficient mass production of high-
efficiency multi-junction cells. This can be combined,
for example, with III-V alloys, chalcogenides and
perovskites expected to perform extremely well even
in non-concentrating tracker applications (Johnson,
Thin-film panels
Thin-film panels are technologically more complex
than silicon-based PV panels. Glass content for c-Si
panels is likely to increase by 2030. By contrast, it
is likely to decrease for thin-film panels by using
thinner and more stable glass materials. This in turn
will encourage a higher proportion of compound
semiconductors and other metals (Marini et al., 2014
and Woodhouse et al., 2013).
CIGS panels are today composed of 89% of glass,
falling 1% to 88% in 2030. They contain 7% aluminium,
rising 1% in 2030, and 4% polymer remaining stable.
They will experience a slight reduction of 0.02% in
other metals but a 0.2% increase in semiconductors.
Other metals include 10% copper, 28% indium, 10%
gallium and 52% selenium (Pearce, 2014; Bekkelund,
2013 and NREL, 2011).
CIGS panel efficiency is currently 15% and targeted at
20% and above in the long term (Raithel, 2014).
By 2030 the proportion of glass as total panel mass
in CdTe panels is expected to decrease by 1% from
97% to 96%. However, their polymer mass is expected
to increase by 1% from 3% to 4% compared to today.
In comparison to CIGS panels, material usage for
semiconductors as a proportion of panel usage will
decline almost by half from 0.13% to 0.07%. However,
the share of other metals (e.g. nickel, zinc and tin)
will grow from 0.26% to 0.41% (Marini et al., 2014;
Bekkelund, 2013 and NREL, 2011). The main reason for
this increase in other metals is the further reduction
in CdTe layer thickness (which brings down the
semiconductor content of the base semiconductor).
However, the efficiency improvements of the past
couple of years were also related to ‘bandgap’
grading effects, which can be achieved by doping
the semiconductor layer with other components.
The addition of other components to the mix is
reflected in the rise in other metals. Another reason
for the increase in the proportion of other metals is
the addition of a layer between back-contact metals
and the semiconductor package. This reduces copper
diffusion into the semiconductor and thus long-term
degradation and leads to the thickening of the back-
stack of metals (Strevel et al., 2013).
The PV industry is aiming for 25% efficiency
for CdTe panel research cells and over 20% for
commercial panels in the next three years. This is
substantially higher than the 15.4% achieved in 2015.
New technologies are also expected to reduce the
performance degradation rate to 0.5%/year (Strevel
et al., 2013).
Chapter 6 provides additional details on panel
composition, the function of various materials
and potential future changes in panel design and
PV panel waste classification follows the basic
principles of waste classification. This also considers
material composition by mass or volume and
properties of the components and materials used
(e.g. solubility, flammability, toxicity). It accounts
for potential mobilisation pathways of components
and materials for different reuse, recovery, recycling
and disposal scenarios (e.g. materials leaching to
groundwater, admission of particulate matter into
the soil). The overall goal of these classification
principles is to identify risks to the environment and
human health that a product could cause during end-
of-life management. The aim is to prescribe disposal
and treatment pathways to minimise these threats.
The risk that materials will leach out of the end-of-
life product or its components to the environment is
very significant, and assessment of this threat helps
define necessary containment measures. However,
this is just one possible risk. Other examples assessed
through waste characterisation include flammability,
human exposure hazards through skin contact or
inhalation. Risks assessed may differ by country and
Depending on national and international regulations
such as the Basel Convention on the Control of
Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and
Their Disposal (UN, 2016), waste can be classified into
various categories such as inert waste, non-hazardous
waste and hazardou s waste. To some extent, the origi n
of the waste is also taken into consideration, defining
subcategories such as industrial waste, domestic
waste and specific product-related categories such
as e-waste, construction waste and mixed solid
wastes. The different categories of classified waste
then determine permitted and prohibited shipment,
treatment, recycling and disposal pathways.
In 2015 two-thirds of PV panels installed across the
world were c-Si panels. Typically, more than 90%
of their mass is composed of glass, polymer and
aluminium, which can be classified as non-hazardous
waste. However, smaller constituents of c-Si panels can
present recycling difficulties since they contain silicon,
silver and traces of elements such as tin and lead
(together accounting for around 4% of the mass). Thin-
film panels (9% of global annual production) consist of
more than 98% glass, polymer and aluminium (non-
hazardous waste) but also modest amounts of copper
and zinc (together around 2% of the mass), which is
potentially environmentally hazardous waste. They also
contain semiconductor or hazardous materials such as
indium, gallium, selenium, cadmium tellurium and lead.
Hazardous materials need particular treatment and
may fall under a specific waste classification depending
on the jurisdiction.
Key criterion for PV panel waste classification:
Leaching tests
Table 9 summarises typical waste characterisation
leaching test methods in the US, Germany and
Japan. The overview provides one of the most
important characterisation metrics used in PV waste
classification across the world at this time.
Based on Sinha and Wade (2015)
Table 9 PV waste characterisation: Leaching test methods in the US, Germany and Japan
US Germany Japan
Leaching test
US Environment
Protection Agency
method 1311
DIN EN German
Institute for
standard 12457-
Ministry of
Notice 13/JIS K
0102:2013 method
(JLT-1 3)
Sample size (centimetres) 110.5
Sodium acetate/
acetic acid (pH
2.88 for alkaline
waste; pH 4.93 for
neutral to acidic
Distilled water Distilled water
Liquid:solid ratio for leaching test (e.g. amount of
liquid used in relation to the solid material) 20:1 10:1 10:1
Treatment method
agitation (30±2
rotations per
agitation (5
rotations per
agitation (200
rotations per
Test temperature 2 2˚C 20˚C 20˚C
Tes t duration 18±2 hr 24 hr 6 hr
The key criterion for determining the waste
classification is th e concentration of certain substances
in a liquid which has been exposed to fragments of
the broken PV panels for a defined period of time in a
particular ratio. This leachate typically dissolves some
of the materials present in the solid sample and hence
can be analysed for the mass concentration of certain
hazardous substances. Different jurisdictions, such as
Germany, the US or Japan provide different threshold
values for the allowable leachate concentrations
for a waste material to be characterised as non-
hazardous waste. For instance, the threshold for
leachate concentration for lead allowing a panel to
be classified as hazardous is 5 milligrammes per litre
(mg/l) in the US and 0.3 mg/l in Japan. For cadmium,
the hazardous threshold is 1 mg/l in the US, 0.3 mg/l
in Japan and 0.1 mg/l in Germany. These compare to
publicly available leaching test results in the literature
(summarised in Sinha and Wade, 2015) for c-Si and
CdTe PV panels. They range from non-detect to 0.22
mg/l for cadmium and non-detect to 11 mg/l for
lead. Thus, in different jurisdictions, CdTe and c-Si
panels could be considered either non-hazardous or
hazardous waste on the basis of these test results.
Regulatory classification of PV panel waste
From a regulatory point of view, PV panel waste still
largely falls under the general waste classification.
An exception exists in the EU where PV panels are defined
as e-waste in the WEEE Directive. The term ‘electrical and
electronic equipment’ or EEE is defined as equipment
designed for use with a voltage rating not exceeding
1,000 V for alternating current and 1,500 V for direct
current, or equipment dependent on electric currents
or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly,
or equipment for the generation of such currents, or
equipment for the transfer of such currents, or equipment
for the measurement of such currents (EU, 2012).
Hence, the waste management and classification
for PV panels is regulated in the EU by the WEEE
Directive in addition to other related waste legislation
(e.g. Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC). This
comprehensive legal framework also ensures that
potential environmental and human health risks
associated with the management and treatment of
waste are dealt with appropriately. By establishing
a List of Wastes (European Commission, 2000), the
EU has further created a reference nomenclature
providing a common terminology throughout the
EU to improve the efficiency of waste management
activities. It provides common coding of waste
characteristics for classifying hazardous versus non-
hazardous waste, transport of waste, installation
permits and decisions about waste recyclability as
well as supplying a basis for waste statistics.
Some codes from the EU’s List of Wastes applicable to
PV panels are given in Table 10.
Table 10 Examples of waste codes relevant to PV panels from the EU List of Wastes
Type Waste code Remark
all types 160214 Industrial waste from electrical and electronic
160213* Discarded equipment containing hazardous
200136 Municipal waste, used electrical and
electronic equipment
200135* Discarded electrical and electronic equipment
containing hazardous components
In special cases also: e.g. amorphous-silicon
(a-Si) panels 170202 Construction and demolition waste – glass
* Classified as hazardous waste, depending on the concentration of hazardous substances. Table 10 portrays leaching test methods
commonly used for hazardous waste characterisation.
Based on European Commission, (2000)
Beyond general waste regulations, various approaches
have been developed specifically for managing end-of-
life PV panel waste. The following sections summarise
the general principles of panel waste management as
well as examples portraying voluntary, public-private-
partnership and regulated approaches.
Life cycle methodology
All waste management approaches follow the life
cycle stages of a given product.
Figure 11 Process flow diagram of the life cycle stages for PV panels and resulting opportunities for reducing, reusing
or recycling
Adapted from Fthenakis (2000)
Figure 11 displays how for PV panels the life cycle
starts with the extraction of raw materials (cradle) and
ends with the disposal (grave) or reuse, recycling and
recovery (cradle).
Chapter 6 will provide more information on the cradle-
to-cradle and recovery opportunities to:
• Reduce;
• Reuse;
Stakeholders and responsibilities
The responsibility for end-of-life waste-management
activities downstream (waste generation, collection,
transport, treatment and disposal) are typically
covered by the following three main stakeholders:
Society. End-of-life management is supported by
society, with government organisations controlling
and managing operations, financed by taxation.
This could create revenue for municipalities and
eliminate the fixed costs of building a new collection
infrastructure while providing economies-of-
scale benefits. Drawbacks could include a lack of
competition and slower cost optimisation.
Consumers. The consumer that produces panel
waste is responsible for end-of-life management,
including the proper treatment and disposal of
the panel. The consumer may try to minimise
costs, which can have a negative effect on the
development of sound waste collection and
treatment. Since the producer is not involved, there
may be less motivation to produce recyclable and
‘green’ products. This approach currently remains
the dominant framework in most countries for end-
of-life PV panel management.
Producers. End-of-life management is based on
the extended-producer-responsibility (EPR)
principle. This holds producers physically and
financially responsible for the environmental
impact of their products through to end-of-life and
provides incentives for the development of greener
products with lower environmental impacts. This
principle can also be used to create funds to
finance proper collection, treatment, recycling
and disposal systems. Although producers finance
the waste management system, the added cost
can be passed through to consumers in the form
of higher prices.
Costs and financing
A decision needs to be made on which of the three
stakeholders mentioned (society, consumers and
producers) is to take financial responsibility for end-of-
life management. All waste management approaches,
including e-waste, involve incurring costs. That is
equally true for end-of-life PV panel management. The
costs can be broken down into three interconnected
systems outlined below:
1. A physical system of collection, storage/
aggregation, treatment, recovery, recycling
and disposal. This system collects PV panels, for
instance, from separate waste generation points
and transfers them to a more central location
where first-level treatment can start. After this
first treatment step, which usually separates the
waste product into material groups (e.g. metals,
mixed plastics, glass etc.), further processing of the
different material streams is required for recovery
and recycling. This step removes potentially
hazardous materials and impurities from recycling
materials because they prevent recycling. Finally,
the disposal of non-recoverable, non-recyclable
fractions also needs to be taken care of in the
physical system. The costs of operating these
physical system are a function of several factors.
These include the geographical and economic
context, the chosen number of collection and
processing point s and the complexity of dismantling
and separation processes (first-level treatment). A
final factor is the value/costs associated with final
processing of the different material streams for
recycling or disposal.
2. A financial processing system. This system counts
the amounts of various materials recovered from
the recycling process and the associated revenues
and costs to the system.
3. A management and financing system. This system
accounts for the overhead costs of operating an
e-waste system for PV panels, for example.
To provide the financial basis for recycling end-of-life
products, several fee models have been developed
and implemented worldwide. Part of these fees is
set aside to finance the waste treatment system
when end-of-life products are dropped off at
collection points operated by municipalities, dealers,
wholesalers, producers or their service providers.
The fees are typically structured to follow several
principles to ensure they are fair, reasonable, based on
actual programme costs and include regular revisions:
The funds generated from the fees collected
should cover the system costs and achieve clear
environmental goals.
• The fees should be a function of the return on
investment, technical and administrative costs. The
revenues generated from the collection, recycling
and treatment fees should be sufficient to cover the
costs of implementation.
The fee structure should be implemented without
rendering the PV sector uncompetitive with international
markets. Special care should be taken to avoid free riders.
• The fee structure should be simple to implement.
The fee structure should be viable for the PV
products covered by the regulation.
The implementation of these different financial
approaches can vary considerably from country
to country owing to different legal frameworks,
waste streams, levels of infrastructure maturity, and
logistical and financial capabilities. In most countries
with e-waste management systems, a combination
of the consumer-based and producer-based
approaches is incorporated into the compliance
scheme (e.g. in the EU). However, each such scheme
should be adapted to the unique conditions of each
country or region.
Producer-financed compliance cost
Under this model, the producer finances the
activities of the waste management system by
joining a compliance scheme and paying for its
takeback system or stewardship programme. It
covers two types of wastes. The first is orphan
waste (from products placed on the market after
implementation of the waste management system
by producers that no longer exist and cannot be
held liable). The second is historic waste (waste
from products placed on the market before the
waste management system was established). The
costs are usually shared between producers. All
costs are revised regularly and charged per panel
or weight based on the actual recycling costs and
estimates of future costs.
Consumer-financed upfront recycling fee
This fee is paid to collect funds for the future end-of-
life treatment of the product. Consumers pay the fee
at the time of the purchase of the panel. The fee is set
according to estimates for future recycling costs but
may also be used to offset current recycling costs.
Consumer-financed end-of-life fee (disposal fee)
The last owner pays a fee for the collection and
recycling costs to the entity in charge of the
recycling of the end-of-life product.
Enabling framework
Adjusting or developing an end-of-life management
scheme for PV panel waste requires the balancing of
a number of factors such as collection, recovery and
recycling targets. These three targets become the
main driver of waste management policies.
Waste management approaches or schemes need
to take into account different options for collection
systems (e.g. pick-up versus bring-in systems).
They also need to consider the nature and design
Box 6 Financing models for collection, treatment, recovery, recycling and disposal of PV panels
of products to manage end-of-life and recycling
processes adequately (e.g. PV panels are often
classified as e-waste). Hence, waste management
leads naturally also to a motivation to change the
design of products themselves in favour of easier
waste treatment, for instance (Atasu, 2011).
Voluntary approach. Producers often rely on
their internal environmental management systems
to manage all their company’s environmental
responsibilities, including the end-of-life of their
products or services. One example is found in the
International Standards Organisation ISO 14000
family of international standards on environmental
management. ISO 14040: 2006 specifically
deals with the principles and framework for life
cycle assessment of a company’s products and
operations (ISO, 2006). Within this or other
frameworks, some PV panel manufacturers
have established individual voluntary takeback
or product stewardship programmes that allow
defective panels to be returned for recycling on
request. The management of such programmes
can be borne directly by the company or indirectly
through a recycling service agreement outlined in
more detail below:
1. Direct management: the manufacturer operates its
own recycling infrastructure and refurbishment or
recycling programmes to process its own panels,
enabling it to control the entire process (e.g. First
Solar, 2015b).
2. Indirect management: the manufacturer contracts
service providers to collect and treat its panels.
Different levels of manufacturer involvement are
possible depending on the contract details.10
In the option on indirect programmes, producers could
outsource par t or the entire management and op eration of
their recycling programmes to a third party. The members
of such an organisation may be entirely producers or may
also include a network of government entities, recyclers
or collectors. Alternatively, it may be a single entity
created by the government to manage the system. The
activities carried out by third-party organisations and
other compliance schemes can vary from country to
country and depend on specific legislative requirements
and the services offered to members.
Public-private approach. Set up in 2007, PV CYCLE
is an example of a voluntary scheme that includes
both a ‘bring-in’ and ‘pick-up’ system based on the
principle of a public-private-partnership between
industry and European regulators. The association
was established by leading PV manufacturers and
is fully financed by its member companies so that
end-users can return member companies’ defective
panels at over 300 collection points around Europe.
PV CYCLE covers the operation of the collection
points with its own receptacles, collection, transport,
recycling and reporting. Large quantities of panels
(currently more than 40) can be picked up by PV
CYCLE on request. In some countries, PV CYCLE has
established co-operatives and it encourages research
on panel recycling. PV CYCLE is being restructured to
comply with the emerging new regulations for end-
of-life PV in the different EU member states (see next
chapter on the EU) (PV CYCLE, 2016).
Regulatory approach. The EU is the only jurisdi ction
that has developed specific regulations and policies
addressing the end-of-life management of PV. The
next section examines in more detail the regulatory
approach taken by the EU.
10. For example, manufacturers could decide to operate part of the
collection and recycling infrastructure. They could contract out
the other par ts, as in a business-to-business (B2B) environment in
which the panel owner is contractually required to bring the panel
to a centralised logistic hub. At that point the manufacturer takes
over the bulk logistics and treatment processes.
Since the late 1990s, the EU has led PV deployment
with significant volumes installed between 2005
and 2011, prompting an increase from 2.3 GW to 52
GW over that period (IRENA, 2016b). Manufacturers
selling into the EU thus also started to devise early
PV life cycle management concepts, the most
prominent example being the previously mentioned
pan-European PV CYCLE initiative (PV CYCLE, 2015).
The resulting increases in PV production triggered PV
recycling technology development since production
scrap recycling offered direct economic benefits and
Figure 12 World overview of PV panel producers and cumulative installed PV capacity
justified investments in such technologies in the short
High deployment rates, growing manufacturing
capacities and increasing demand for PV globally led
to a rapid internationalisation and commoditisation of
supply chains. This made it very difficult to implement
pan-European voluntary initiatives for long-term
producer responsibility (see Figure 12 for global
overview of PV panel producers and cumulative
installed PV capacity). This resulted in the need for
regulation to ensure a level playing field for all market
participants and secure the long-term end-of-life
collection and recycling for PV waste (European
Commission, 2014).
WEEE Directive
Balancing the advantages and disadvantages
of different approaches to addressing e-waste
management – including waste PV panels - is at the
core of the EU regulatory fra mework set up through the
WEEE Directive. This framework effectively addresses
the complex EEE waste stream11 in the 28 EU member
states and the wider economic area, placing the
extended-producer-responsibility principle at its
core. The directive has a gl obal impact, since producers
which want to place products on the EU market are
legally responsible for end-of-life management, no
matter where their manufacturing sites are located
(European Commission, 2013).
This combination of producer legal liability for product
end-of-life, EEE dedicated collection, recovery
and recycling targets, and minimum treatment
requirements ensuring environment and human
health protection may be a reference point for PV
waste management regulation development globally.
The original WEEE Directive (Directive 2002/96/
EC) entered into force in February 2003 but proved
to be insufficient to tackle the quickly increasing
and diverse waste stream (European Parliament and
Council, 2002). In 2012, following a proposal by the
EU Commission, the directive was revised (2012/19/
EU). For the first time it included specifics on end-
of-life management of PV panels. The revised WEEE
Directive entered into force on 13 August 2012, was
to be implemented by the EU member states by
14 February 2014 and thus introduced a new legal
framework for PV panel waste. Each one of the 28
EU member states is now responsible for establishing
the regime for PV panel collection and treatment in
accordance with the directive (European Parliament
and Council, 2012).
As the revised WEEE Directive is based on
the extended-producer-responsibility principle,
producers (see Box 7) are liable for the costs of
collection, treatment and monitoring. They must fulfil
a certain number of requirements and responsibilities
(European Commission, 2015; European Commission,
2014; European Commission 2013; European
Parliament and Council, 2008 and 2008b).
Financing responsibility. Producers are liable
through a financial guarantee to cover the cost of
collection and recycling of products likely to be
used by private households. They are responsible
for financing public collection points and first-level
treatment facilities. They also need to become a
member of a collective compliance scheme or may
develop an individual scheme.
Reporting responsibility. Producers are obliged to
report monthly or annually on panels sold, taken
back (through individual or collective compliance
schemes) and forwarded for treatment. Within
this reporting scheme, producers equally need
to present the results from the waste treatment
of products (tonnes treated, tonnes recovered,
tonnes recycled, tonnes disposed by fraction e.g.
glass, mixed plastic waste, metals).
Information responsibility. Producers are
accountable for labelling panels in compliance
with the WEEE Directive. They must inform
buyers that the panels have to be disposed of
in dedicated collection facilities and should not
be mixed with general waste, and that takeback
and recycling are free (European Parliament and
Council, 2008b). They are also responsible for
informing the buyer of their PV panel end-of-life
procedures. Specific collection schemes might
go beyond legal requirements, with the producer
offering pick-up at the doorstep, for example.
Lastly, producers are required to give information
to waste treatment companies on how to
handle PV panels during collection, storage,
dismantling and treatment. This information
contains specifics on hazardous material
content and potential occupational risks. In the
case of PV panels, this includes information on
electrocution risks when handling panels exposed
to light.
11. EEE is defined as equipment designed for use with a voltage
rating not exceeding 1,000 V for alternating current and 1,500 V
for direct current, or equipment dependent on electric currents or
electromagnetic fields in order to work properly, or equipment for
the generation of such currents, or equipment for the transfer of
such current s, or equipment for th e measurement of such cur rents
(EU, 2012).
12. ‘Put on the m arket’ is a complex leg al construct defined i n the Blue
Guide of the European Commission on the implementation of EU
product rules (Commission Notice C(2016) 1958, 5 April 2016).
It can have different meanings depending on the sales channel
used to market a product and ef fectively provides a temporal
determination of the legal responsibilit y of the producer.
WEEE Directive targets
The WEEE Directive follows the staggered approach
to collection and recovery targets outlined in Table 11.
Collection targets rise from 45% (by mass) of equipment
‘put on the market12 in 2016 to 65% of equipment ‘put
on the market’ or 85% of waste generated as from 2018.
Recovery targets rise from 75% recovery/65% recycling
to 85% recovery/80% recycling in the same time frame.
Recovery is to be understood as the physical operation
leading to the reclamation of a specific material stream
or fraction from the general stream. Recycling, on the
other hand, should be understood in the context of
preparing that reclaimed stream for treatment and reuse
(European Commission, 2015).
The e-waste recovery quotas are specified in a separate
directive detailing minimum treatment requirements
and technical treatment standards and specifications
for specific equipment such as PV panels (European
‘Producers’ include a range of parties involved in
bringing a product to market — not just the original
equipment manufacturer. The WEEE Directive
defines the producer in Article 3:
‘Producer’ means any natural or legal person who,
irrespective of the selling technique used, including
distance communication within the meaning of
Directive 97/7/EC (European Commission, 1997) of
the European Parliament and of the Council of 20
May 1997 on the protection of consumers in respect
of distance contracts (19):
i. is established in a Member State and
manufactures EEE under his own name
or trademark, or has EEE designed or
manufactured and markets it under his name or
trademark within the territory of that Member
ii. is established in a Member State and resells
within the territory of that Member State,
Commission, 2008). This two-pronged approach enables
the implementation of ‘high-value recycling’ processes
(see Box 8 for definition). The European Commission has
also committed to further developing methodologies
establishing individual collection and recycling targets
for PV panels. They will take into consideration recovery
of material that is rare or has high embedded energy
as well as containing potentially harmful substances
(European Commission, 2013).
under his own name or trademark, equipment
produced by other suppliers, a reseller not
being regarded as the ‘producer’ if the brand
of the producer appears on the equipment, as
provided for in point (i);
iii. is established in a Member State and places
on the market of that Member State, on a
professional basis, EEE from a third country or
from another Member State; or
iv. sells EEE by means of distance communication
directly to private households or to users other
than private households in a Member State, and
is established in another Member State or in a
third country.
Whoever exclusively provides financing under or
pursuant to any finance agreement shall not be
deemed to be a ‘producer’ unless he also acts
as a producer within the meaning of points (i)
to (iv).
Box 7 Definition of producers under the WEEE Directive
Table 11 Annual collection and recovery targets (mass %) under the WEEE Directive
Annual collection targets Annual recycling/Recovery targets
Original WEEE Directive
(2002/96/EC) 4 kg/inhabitant 75% recovery, 65% recycling
Revised WEEE Directive
(2012/19/EU) up to 2016 4 kg/inhabitant Start with 75% recovery, 65%
recycling, 5% increase after 3 years
Revised WEEE Directive
(2012/19/EU) from 2016 to 2018
45% (by mass) of all equipment put
on the market
80% recovered and 70% prepared
for reuse and recycled
Revised WEEE Directive
(2012/19/EU) from 2018 and
65% (by mass) of all equipment
put on the market or 85% of waste
85% recovered and 80% prepared
for reuse and recycled
13. Products put on the market are reported by producers so these figures have a low uncertainty. However, a 65% target is unrealistic for items
like PV panels, which have a ver y long life. It will not account for increasing amounts of historic waste (not recorded in the past) as well as
varying life cycle curves per product category. An alternative measure is provided to account for the actual waste generated alone.
Future WEEE Directive revisions might impose even
further cost-effective, high-quality and high-yield
recovery and recycling processes as these become
available. They would minimise societal material losses
that could occur through ‘downcycling’. The term
‘downcycling’ refers to the deterioration of intrinsic
material or energy value of a secondary raw material
by using it for new purposes (e.g. using a high-grade
semiconductor material such as broken silicon scrap
as backfill for street construction).
In addition to quotas and treatment requirements,
the revised WEEE Directive also references measures
specific to PV panels to prevent illegal shipments
(European Parliament and Council, 2006) and new
obligations for trade (Directive 2012/19/EC, Art. 14).
Modified provisions to trade include, for example,
the need to provide information to end-users on
environmental impact. They equally contain proper
collection mechanisms and the acceptance of old
products free-of-charge if a replacement is bought
(European Parliament and Council, 2012).
The WEEE Directive sets minimum requirements
which member s tates may adjust when they transpose
the directive into their own legislation. They may,
for instance, define more stringent requirements
or target quotas and add requirements. At the time
of this report’s publication, all EU member states
have incorporated the WEEE Directive into national
legislation, sometimes with the addition of certain
country-specific regulations.
This can pose challenges for producers because
almost every member state has implemented
slightly varying definitions of extended-producer-
responsibility (see Chapter 5 for case studies on
Germany and the UK). Since the directive has been
transposed very recently (in some cases as recently
as early 2016), no statistical data on PV collection and
recycling is available at the time of the publication of
this report in June 2016.
The environmental and socio-economic
impacts of the different end-of-life waste-
management options for PV panels have
been widely assessed in previous literature
(GlobalData, 2012; Münchmeyer, Faninger and
Goodman, Sinha and Cossette, 2012; Held,
2009; Müller, Schlenker and Wambach, 2008;
Sander, et al., 2007). These assessments have
concluded that ‘high-value recycling,’ is the
option preferred for all technologies for the
benefit of society in general. It not only ensures
the recovery of a particular mass percentage
of the total panel but also accounts for minor
fractions. The high-value recycling approach is
now the foundation for the WEEE Directive and
ensures the following:
potentially harmful substances (e.g. lead,
cadmium, selenium) will be removed and
contained during treatment
• rare materials (e.g. silver, tellurium, indium)
will be recovered and made available for
future use
materials with high embedded energy value
(e.g. silicon, glass) will be recycled
recycling processes will consider the quality
of recovered material (e.g. glass)
The European Commission also asked the
European Committee for Electrotechnical
Standardization to develop specific, qualitative
treatment standards for different fractions of
the waste stream to complement the high-value
recycling approach. As part of that mandate
(European Commission, 2013), a supplementary
standard and technical specification for PV panel
collection and treatment is under development
(European Committee for Electrotechnical
Standardization CLC/TC 111X, 2015). The findings
are due to be released in 2016 and may lead to
another revision of the WEEE Directive.
Box 8 EU end-of-life management through
‘high-value recycling’
The revised WEEE Directive distinguishes between
private household or business-to-consumer (B2C)
transactions and non-private household or B2B
transactions when mandating an effective financing
mechanism (see Box 9). The regulation is f lexible on the
responsible party (owner or producer) and financing
methods. This depends on the characteristics of the
PV system (e.g. system size) and the characterisation
of PV panels themselves in the respective member
state. For example, France stipulates that all PV
panels are characterised as B2C product independent
of system size or other product attributes.
To fulfil the ambitious WEEE Directive recycling
targets starting 2016, PV panels will have to be rapidly
incorporated into new or existing waste management
systems. Several national schemes by EU member
states have already been managing other parts of
the electrical and electronic waste stream for years,
organising collection, treatment, recycling and reporting
to regulators. These can serve as an important reference
point to manage increasing PV panel waste streams.
The next chapter describes in more detail the EU legal
framework and different national applications in EU
member states such as Germany and the UK.
WEEE Directive financing schemes
Varying requirements for end-of-life PV panels under
the WEEE Directive have included classifying the
waste stream as ‘waste from private households’ in
France and the option to classify the waste as ‘waste
from other users than private households’ in the
UK. These differing definitions have implications for
collection and recycling financing as well as waste
responsibilities. Another important issue that has
evolved during transposition is the different estimates
of treatment costs among member states.
Two financing approaches can be distinguished in
the WEEE Directive:
Individual pre-funding or collective joint-and-
several liability schemes
Contractual arrangements between producer and
customer (dependent on B2C or B2B transaction)
The implementation of the original WEEE Directive
of 2003 has shown that pre-funding approaches are
only practical for e-waste sold in very low quantities
such as specialty e-waste (e.g. custom-made fridges).
Thus, the pre-funding scheme for collecting and
recycling high-volume e-waste such as PV panels has
not proved cost effective. Producer pay-as-you-go
(PAYG) approaches combined with last-man-standing
insurance and joint-and-several liability producer
schemes are therefore more commonplace today
although the revised 2012 directive still allows the pre-
funding scheme.14
14. In a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach, the cost of collection and
recycling is covered by market par ticipants when waste occurs.
By contrast, a pay-as-you- put (PAYP) approach involves setting
aside an upfront payment for estimated collection and recycling
costs when a product is placed on the market. Last-man-standing
insurance is an insurance product that covers a producer
compliance scheme based on a PAYG approach if all producers
disappear from the market. In that situation, the insurance covers
the costs for co llection and recycling . In a joint-and-several lia bility
scheme, producers of a certain product or product group agree
to jointly accept the liabilities for waste collection and recycling
for a specific product or product group. How the concept is put in
practice is explained in the next chapter in the case of Germany.
The WEEE Directive defines the framework for
two financing mechanisms depending on the end-
use (private household or not) of the product.
Under this framework, each EU member state can
further determine the financial responsibility of
stakeholders and related transactions.
Private households (B2C transactions)
Requiring the producer to collect and recycle has
proved to be more enforceable and efficient than
forcing private household customers to recycle
e-waste at their end-of-life. PAYG approaches
combined with last-man-standing insurance/
joint-and-several liability schemes (producer
compliance schemes) are more efficient and viable
for equipment sold in a B2C context.
For B2C transactions the producer is not allowed
to enter into a contractual arrangement with the
Box 9 Financing framework under the WEEE Directive
customer on financing. However, it is required to
fulfil the mandatory requirements set out by the
Non-private households (B2B transactions)
In B2B transactions both customer and producer
may be capable of collecting and recycling end-
of-life e-waste. For example, for large volume
or big equipment like large-scale PV plants, the
project owner may be best positioned to fulfill
the recycling obligation. It has the option to use
project cash flows, hire the original producer or
hire a professional third party to recycle. For B2B
transactions a regulatory framework ensuring
collection and recycling to common standards
for all industry players and allowing contractual
arrangements between producer and customer for
financing end-of-life obligations is considered most
This chapter analyses current approaches to PV waste
management. It begins with an overview of how
today’s most comprehensive end-of-life PV regulation,
the EU WEEE Directive (see Chapter 4), is applied in
selected EU member states, including Germany and
the UK. In the following sections, PV panel waste
management approaches are outlined for Japan and
the US. Finally, this chapter also includes case studies
of China and India, two of the most important growing
PV markets globally. The six case studies were chosen
to span a range of maturity of both PV deployment
markets, and regulatory and voluntary approaches.
PV market and waste projection
The German PV market started growing in the 1990s.
In that decade the first support schemes were
introduced, clearly targeted at residential use, and
there were scientific assessments of the feasibility of
grid-connected, decentralised rooftop PV systems.
One example was the 1,000 Rooftop Programme
(Hoffmann, 2008). In the early 2000s this rooftop
PV support programme was extended to 100,000
roofs and eventually led to the renewable energy
support act, the first of its kind. This set a feed-
in-tariff for electricity generated from renewable
energy, including PV. The feed-in-tariff kick-started
the German PV market and provided a significant
global impetus for the PV industry to grow to the
next scale.
In 2015, PV contributed 6% of total net electricity
consumption in Germany with a total installed capacity
of almost 40 GW distributed over 1.5 million PV power
plants (IRENA, 2016b and Wirth, 2015). Germany was
the world’s largest PV market for two consecutive
decades. Only in 2015 was it overtaken by China to
become today the second-largest PV market.
In line with the Chapter 2 model, Germany’s expected
end-of-life PV panel waste volumes will cumulatively
range between 3,500 and 70,000 t by 2016. This is
mainly due to its historic installed PV capacity. The
figure varies according to scenario selected. In 2030
and by 2050 the regular-loss and early-loss scenario
forecast between 400,000 and 1 million t and
4.3-4.4 million t respectively (see Figure 13). Bearing
in mind uncertainties inherent in these projections,
as explained in Chapter 2, Germany will clearly be
one of the first and largest markets for PV recycling
technologies in coming years.
Figure 13 End-of-life PV panel wast