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What happens to solar systems at the end of their life?
There are several ways to retire a solar farm, including extension, refurbishment, repowering, or decommissioning.
Landowners may extend the life of a solar farm at the end of its 20–30-year lifespan, maintaining the existing structures to continue electricity production. The solar plant may be refurbished or repowered, whereby the panels are replaced with newer/updated technology that is also likely more efficient.
Solar panels can be completely dismantled. This is called decommissioning. When this happens, the land can be reverted to its original purpose or altered for other infrastructure or development. Solar installations are a great way to preserve the land for future farming. It gives the soil time to rest and regenerate.
Solar panels that are removed from use can be disassembled and recycled for use in other products or refurbished and resold.
Silicon PV modules are primarily made of glass, aluminum, and plastic, which can all be easily recycled. The glass content of panels is increasing over time in efforts to maximize efficiency in energy absorption, a process that allows for even more simple recycling processes.
Some solar panels contain metals such as cadmium, gallium arsenide, or chromium, which must be treated as hazardous waste and handled accordingly.
Decommissioned solar panels can be repurposed and resold, which is more cost effective and sustainable than recycling.