Over the past 20 years, solar panels have become increasingly popular as an alternative method of heating the home and generating electricity. They are an excellent choice for those who prefer to use renewable energy in their home. Like for like, they are cheaper than fossil fuels and much better for the environment. There are even initiatives in place whereby any excess energy that is generated is fed back into the National Grid and the home owner is paid for it. There are lots of reputable companies across the UK that install solar panels. However, when it’s time for them to be removed or replaced, it’s harder to find somewhere to dispose of them safely and ethically.
How Often will they Need Replaced?
Older solar panels often need to be replaced as little as between 5 to 10 years after installation. The most common problem is degradation to the solar cells caused by the sun’s rays. Newer, crystalline panels have a longer lifespan and these last an average of 25 years. The most common problem with the panels is caused by natural weather patterns. Sun, wind and rain all damage the panels in different ways. Other parts that may need replacing are relatively low cost and easy to change items such as batteries. Regular maintenance on the panels is essential for extending their lifespan. They shouldn’t be placed anywhere that is shaded or where overhanging branches could damage them. Ideally, they shouldn’t be near any trees where leaves or debris could land on them and prevent the sun’s rays from being absorbed. During the winter when it’s often foggy or snowy, extra care should be taken to remove any ice and snow from the panels to increase efficiency. However, as the panels are often fixed to a sloped roof, care should be taken and this should only be done if the conditions are safe.
For a lot of consumers, being environmentally friendly was a major factor in having the panels installed in the first place, so disposing of them in an environmentally friendly manner is just as important. Although there are countless companies who install the panels, finding someone who recycles them is a lot more difficult. Your first port of call should be the company who installed them in the first place. Some companies offer a free removal scheme at the time of purchase, although recycling (as opposed to the panels being disposed of) may incur an extra fee. Other options include using a professional solar panel recycling company such as PV Cycle – a not for profit organisation based in Belgium who collect old solar panels from across Europe using a network of partners. There are a number of collections points across the UK and Europe from which people come out and remove the panels for a charge and take them away. The panels are then broken down and recycled. For a lot of consumers, the most cost effective way to have the panels recycled is to negotiate a free or reduced cost when upgrading to new panels. In a bid to get your business, many companies may be open to negotiation. Make sure you are sure of the company’s recycling credentials before signing the contract and, as always, get at least 3 quotes from different companies before commencing work.
Although the panels are predominantly made from glass, the solar cells contain several chemicals which can be dangerous to both the environment and humans if disposed of carelessly. There are over 50 chemicals involved in the manufacture of the panels, including cadmium and arsenic. If the panels are simply thrown away rather than being recycled, these chemicals are easily absorbed into the surrounding area, whether that be into the soil, water or air. These harmful toxins can be dangerous to animals as well as humans, so it is important to always use a reputable company when having solar panels removed to avoid them being illegally dumped in non legitimate areas. Although the cost of having the panels recycled may be more than simply disposing them in landfill, the environmental benefits far outweigh the monetary saving.
Costs can vary enormously depending on which company you use and what other products you may be purchasing at the same time. Always research suppliers in your local area fully and ask for recommendations from friends or family who have had the same work done in the past. Ian Wright is a strong supporter of renewable energy in the UK.