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Comprehensive Guide to Solar Panel Types. Pv module solar panel

Comprehensive Guide to Solar Panel Types. Pv module solar panel

    Photovoltaic Lifetime Project

    High-accuracy public data on photovoltaic (PV) module degradation from the Department of Energy (DOE) Regional Test Centers will increase the accuracy and precision of degradation profiles calculated for representative PV hardware installed in the U.S.

    Project developers’ assumptions on the initial performance of PV systems can affect calculations of project finance and commercial viability. Due to the typical slow pace of PV module degradation—often less than 1% per year—the reported degradation can be undetectable (within measurement uncertainty) for the first several years of operation. However, with careful indoor current-voltage (I-V) curve methods and higher frequency of measurement, greater accuracy in degradation profile can be distinguished. This effort investigates equipment widely deployed across the U.S. and addresses multiple deployment climates. In particular, a FOCUS is on early-life degradation of PV modules, which may indicate stepwise degradation functions that are too subtle to be detected through typical outdoor monitoring. Because of the leveraged nature of PV project finance, low initial degradation is more beneficial than constant degradation through the project lifetime.

    Low initial degradation (green curve) results in more-economical PV installations. Frequent intermediate measurements are required to distinguish one degradation profile from the other.


    These activities are funded by the DOE Energy Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy through the PV Lifetime Project and the SunShot National Laboratory Multiyear Partnership (SuNLaMP) project. Three PV module types are being investigated through the PV Lifetime Project. Additional module types will be installed in following years. Additional system information can be found at Sandia National Laboratories’ PV Performance Modeling Collaborative website and in the following publications:

    Jinko Solar

    Jinko Solar PV Lifetime installation at NREL.

    PV systems composed of 28 modules each of Jinko JKM260P-60 and Jinko JKM265P-60 were deployed at NREL (Golden, Colorado) and Sandia (Albuquerque, New Mexico). The systems are grid-tied through an ABB TRIO 20.0 inverter, in two strings of 14 modules apiece.

    Initial baseline PV data were taken September 2016, with the modules installed at Voc October 2016. The PV system was grid-tied in April 2017. An initial light-induced degradation of ˜1.5% was detected following 10 kWh/m 2 of light exposure.

    Trina Solar

    Trina Solar PV Lifetime installation at NREL.

    PV systems composed of 28 modules each of Trina TSM-PD05.08 260W and Trina TSM-PD05.05 255W (black backsheet) modules were deployed at NREL (Golden, Colorado) and Sandia (Albuquerque, New Mexico). The systems are grid-tied through an ABB TRIO 20.0 inverter, in two strings of 14 modules apiece.

    PV module baseline data were taken in October 2016, with modules installed Oct. 26, 2016. The PV system was grid-tied in April 2017. An initial light-induced degradation of less than 1% was detected following 10 kWh/m 2 of light exposure.


    QCells PV Lifetime installation at NREL.

    PV systems composed of 28 modules each of QCells Q.Plus BFR-G4.1 280 (multi-PERC) and Q.Peak BLK-G4.1 290 (mono-PERC, black backsheet) modules were deployed at NREL (Golden, Colorado) and Sandia (Albuquerque, New Mexico). The systems are grid-tied through an ABB TRIO 20.0 inverter, in two strings of 14 modules apiece.

    PV module baseline data were taken in July 2017, with modules installed Oct. 27, 2017. An initial light-induced degradation of less than 1% was detected following 10 kWh/m 2 of light exposure.

    Panasonic, Canadian Solar, LG

    Panasonic PV Lifetime installation at NREL.

    Three separate PV systems were deployed in 2018, composed of 30 modules of Panasonic VBHN3305A16 (Heterojunction “HIT”), 28 modules of Canadian Solar CS6K-300MS (Mono-PERC), and 28 modules of LG LG320N1K-A5 (N-Type Mono-Si “NeON2”). The systems are grid-tied through HiQ ProHarvest inverters, in two or three strings apiece.

    PV module baseline data were taken in June 2018, with modules installed June–October 2018. Initial LID performance changes following 20 kWh/m2 of light exposure differed depending on product technology: Panasonic: 0.6%. Canadian Solar:.0.5%. LG: 0%.

    Mission Solar, Prism Solar, Sunpreme Bifacial Tracker

    Bifacial Tracker installation at NREL.

    A 10-row single-axis tracked system was installed at NREL in 2018–2019. The site supports three PV Lifetime systems: 20 modules each of Mission Solar MSE360SQ6S (Mono-PERC), Sunpreme Maxima HxB 400 (bifacial HJT), and Prism Solar Bi72 (bifacial PERC). The systems are grid-tied through SolarEdge SE20k inverters and utilize module-level power optimization to identify rear irradiance mismatch throughout the system.

    PV module baseline data were taken in early 2019, with modules installed March 2019. A subset of data will be made available publicly.


    Journal articles, technical reports, conference papers, and outreach documents related of PV degradation rate are published through DOE SuNLaMP-sponsored work. Check out a summary of DOE-sponsored research on degradation rates.

    PV Lifetime Project – NREL Annual Report (2022)

    NREL periodically assesses the performance of its fielded modules using high-accuracy, indoor IV curve measurements at standard test conditions. The resulting data is collected in an annual report.

    RdTools (2017)

    RdTools is a set of Python scripts and software for analysis of photovoltaic time-series data. The open-source tools were developed in collaboration with industry to bring together best practices and years of degradation research from NREL.

    Additional details on software methodology and updates can be found on the RdTools info page and on the GitHub software repository.

    Progress and Frontiers in PV Performance (2016)

    Different reliability failure modes may present themselves as performance loss that is nonlinear or piecewise linear. A crystalline silicon PV module exhibited stable performance from 2006 through 2016 until a cell crack led to a hot spot and a sudden nonlinear performance drop in maximum power.

    Insights into PV Levelized Cost of Energy through a New Degradation Study (2016)

    An update to the original PV Degradation Rates paper has summarized over 11,000 data points and has distinguished between high-quality studies (multiple measurements) and single-point measurements that depend on the nameplate value of PV modules being correct. Using only high-quality data for crystalline silicon modules yields a degradation rate of 0.5% per year. See the complete paper.

    PV Degradation Methodology — A Basis for a Standard (2016)

    Real-time outdoor data can be mined to extract system and module performance. However, the methodology used to filter and analyze the data can directly impact the calculated rate, particularly for short data time-series. In particular, two methods are compared: standard linear regression and a year-on-year method.

    1603 Treasury Data Lifts the Veil on PV System Performance (2014)

    An analysis of 1.7 gigawatts of PV installations (50,000 unique systems) has shown several trends. The first is that large-scale reliability problems have not been a problem in the first four operational years of these systems. Second, the systems in general performed better than expected—by 2%–4% on average. Download the complete papers (Paper 1 and Paper 2).

    Photovoltaic Degradation Rates — An Analytical Review (2011)

    A review of the existing literature has identified 2,000 uniquely measured degradation rates. Median degradation rates for these modules are 0.5% per year. A long tail of lower-reliability products increases the average to 0.8% per year. This study was updated in 2016 (see above) with a significantly increased sample size. Read the original study.


    Group Manager, PV Field Performance

    NREL Senior Reliability Engineer

    Dr. Stein is a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia and the author of many papers related to the performance modeling of solar systems.

    Comprehensive Guide to Solar Panel Types

    The push for renewable energy sources has led to a surge in solar energy use. In the past decade alone, the solar industry grew by almost 50%, buoyed by federal support such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit and strong commercial and industrial demand for clean energy.

    As the solar sector continues to rise, it’s worth studying the backbone of the solar industry: solar panels.

    This guide will illustrate the different types of solar panels available on the market today, their strengths and weaknesses, and which is best suited for specific use cases.

    What is a Solar Panel?

    Solar panels are used to collect solar energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

    The typical solar panel is composed of individual solar cells, each of which is made from layers of silicon, boron and phosphorus. The boron layer provides the positive charge, the phosphorus layer provides the negative charge, and the silicon wafer acts as the semiconductor.

    When the sun’s photons strike the surface of the panel, it knocks out electrons from the silicon “sandwich” and into the electric field generated by the solar cells. This results in a directional current, which is then harnessed into usable power.

    The entire process is called the photovoltaic effect, which is why solar panels are also known as photovoltaic panels or PV panels. A typical solar panel contains 60, 72 or 90 individual solar cells.

    The 4 Main Types of Solar Panels

    There are 4 major types of solar panels available on the market today: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, PERC, and thin-film panels.

    Monocrystalline solar panels

    Also known as single-crystal panels, these are made from a single pure silicon crystal that is cut into several wafers. Since they are made from pure silicon, they can be readily identified by their dark black color. The use of pure silicon also makes monocrystalline panels the most space-efficient and longest-lasting among all three solar panel types.

    However, this comes at a cost — a lot of silicon is wasted to produce one monocrystalline cell, sometimes reaching over 50%. This results in a hefty price tag.

    Polycrystalline solar panels

    As the name implies, these come from different silicon crystals instead of one. The silicon fragments are melted and poured into a square mold. This makes polycrystalline cells much more affordable since there is hardly any wastage, and gives them that characteristic square shape.

    However, this also makes them less efficient in terms of energy conversion and space, since their silicon purity and construction are lower than monocrystalline panels. They also have lower heat tolerance, which means they are less efficient in high-temperature environments.

    Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) panels

    PERC solar panels are an improvement of the traditional monocrystalline cell. This relatively new technology adds a passivation layer in the rear surface of the cell that enhances efficiency in several ways:

    • It reflects light back into the cell, increasing the amount of solar radiation that gets absorbed.
    • It reduces the natural tendency of electrons to recombine and inhibit the flow of electrons in the system.
    • It allows greater wavelengths of light to be reflected. Light waves over 1,180nm can’t be absorbed by silicon wafers and simply pass through, so they end up heating the cell’s metal back sheet and reduce its efficiency. The passivation layer reflects these higher wavelengths and stops them from heating up the back sheet.

    PERC panels allow greater solar energy collection in a smaller physical footprint, which makes them ideal for limited spaces. They are only slightly more expensive to produce than traditional panels, due to the added materials needed, but they can be manufactured on the same equipment, and can end up having a lower average cost per watt due to their efficiency.

    To get a better feel for the benefits of PERC panels, check out our blog 5 Important Benefits of PERC Solar Panels You Need to Know.

    Thin-film solar panels

    Thin-film panels are characterized by very fine layers that are thin enough to be flexible. Each panel does not require a frame backing, making them lighter and easier to install. Unlike crystalline silicon panels that come in standardized sizes of 60, 72, and 96-cell counts, thin-film panels can come in different sizes to suit specific needs. However, they are less efficient than typical silicon solar panels.

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    Thin-Film Solar Panel Variations

    Unlike crystalline panels that use silicon, thin-film solar panels are made from different materials. These are:

    • Cadmium telluride (CdTe)
    • Amorphous silicon (a-Si)
    • Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)

    Cadmium telluride (CdTe)

    CdTe has the same low-cost advantage as polycrystalline cells while possessing the lowest carbon footprint, water requirement, and energy payback time of all solar panels types. However, the toxic nature of cadmium makes recycling more expensive than other materials.

    Amorphous silicon (a-Si)

    Amorphous silicon panels (A-Si) derive their name from their shapeless nature. Unlike mono-and polycrystalline solar cells, the silicon is not structured on the molecular level.

    On average, an a-Si cell requires only a fraction of the silicon needed to produce typical silicon cells. This allows them to have the lowest production cost, at the expense of efficiency. This is why a-Si panels are suited for applications that require very little power, such as calculators.

    Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS)

    CIGS panels use a thin layer of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium deposited on a glass or plastic backing. The combination of these elements results in the highest efficiency among thin-panel types, though still not as efficient as crystalline silicon panels.

    Solar Panel Types by Efficiency

    Among all panel types, crystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency.

    • Monocrystalline panels have an efficiency rating over 20%.
    • PERC panels add an extra 5% efficiency thanks to their passivation layer.
    • Polycrystalline panels hover somewhere between 15-17%.

    In contrast, thin-film panels are usually 2-3% less efficient than crystalline silicon. On average:

    • CIGS panels have an efficiency range of 13-15%.
    • CdTe ranges between 9-11%.
    • a-Si have the lowest efficiency at 6-8%.

    Solar Panel Types by Power Capacity

    Monocrystalline cells have the highest power capacity, thanks to their single-crystal construction that allows a higher output rating in a smaller package. Most monocrystalline panels can generate up to 300w of power capacity.

    comprehensive, guide, solar, panel

    Recent advances in solar technology have allowed polycrystalline panels to bridge the gap. A standard 60-cell polycrystalline panel is now capable of producing between 240-300w. However, monocrystalline panels still beat polycrystalline in terms of power capacity per cell.

    Because thin-film panels don’t come in uniform sizes, there is no standard measure of power capacity, and the capacity of one thin-film panel will differ from another based on its physical size. In general, given the same physical footprint, conventional crystalline panels output more power than a thin-film panel of the same size.

    Solar Panel Types by Cost

    Monocrystalline panels (or modules as they are technically known) carry a hefty price tag, due to its energy-intensive and inefficient manufacturing process with only a 50% yield for every silicon crystal.

    Polycrystalline modules are cheaper because they make use of the crystal fragments leftover from monocrystalline production, which results in a simpler manufacturing process and lower production costs.

    Among thin-film solar panels, CIGS is the most expensive, followed by CdTe and amorphous silicon. Apart from the lower acquisition cost, thin-film modules can be easier to install thanks to their lighter weight and flexibility, which lowers the cost of labor.

    While the total cost of residential systems has declined by more than 65% over the last decade, the soft cost of a system has actually risen from 58% of total system cost in 2014 to 65% in 2020.

    For more information about soft costs, check out our article on the soft costs in the solar industry. and what’s being done to reduce them.

    Panel (Module) type Average Cost per Watt
    PERC 0.32-0.65
    Monocrystalline 1 – 1.50
    Polycrystalline 0.70 – 1
    Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) 0.60 – 0.70
    Cadmium telluride (CdTe) 0.50 – 0.60
    Amorphous silicon (a-Si) 0.43 – 0.50

    Note that these figures don’t include the cost of installation and labor. With labor and other overhead factors, the total can rise to 2.50 to 3.50 per watt.

    Other Factors to Consider


    The temperature of a solar panel can affect its ability to generate energy. This loss of output is reflected through the temperature coefficient, which is a measure of the panel’s decrease in power output for every 1°C rise over 25°C (77°F).

    Monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels have a temperature coefficient between.0.3% / °C to.0.5% / °C, while thin-film panels are closer to.0.2% / °C. This means that thin-film panels can be a good option for hotter environments or places that experience more sunlight throughout the year.

    Fire rating

    The updated International Building Code of 2012 requires solar panels to match the fire rating of the roof where they are installed. This is to ensure that the modules do not accelerate the spread of flames in the event of a fire. (California goes one step further by requiring the whole PV system, which includes the racking system, to have the same fire rating).

    As such, solar panels now carry the same classification rating as roofs:

    Class A

    • effective against severe fire test exposure
    • flame spread should not exceed 6 feet
    • required for wildland-urban interface areas, or areas with high fire severity and wildfire risk

    Hail rating

    UL 1703 and UL 61703 standards address hail storms, by dropping 2-inch solid steel spheres on solar panels from a height of 51 inches, and by firing 1-inch ice balls on PV panels with a pneumatic cannon to simulate hail impacts.

    Because of their thicker construction, crystalline panels can withstand hail hitting at speeds of up to 50mph, while thin-film solar panels carry a lower rating due to their thin and flexible nature.

    Hurricane rating

    While there is no formal solar classification rating for hurricanes, the Department of Energy recently expanded its recommended design specifications for solar panels to safeguard against severe weather.

    The new recommendations include:

    • Modules with the highest ASTM E1830-15 rating for snow and wind loading in both the front and back.
    • Fasteners with true locking capability based on DIN 65151 standard
    • The use of through-bolting modules with locking fasteners instead of clamping fasteners
    • The use of 3-frame rail systems for improved rigidity and support against twisting
    • Tubular frames over open-shaped C channels
    • Perimeter fencing around PV systems to slow down wind forces

    Light-Induced Degradation (LID)

    LID is a performance loss commonly seen in crystalline panels during the first few hours of sun exposure. This happens when sunlight reacts with oxygen traces left over from the manufacturing process, which affects the silicon lattice structure.

    The LID loss is directly tied to the manufacturing quality and can range from 1-3%.

    Summary: Solar Panel Types Compared

    PERC Monocrystalline Polycrystalline Thin-film
    Initial Cost Highest High Middle Highest to lowest:

    So, Which Solar Panel Type Should You Use?

    As crystalline and thin-film panels have their own pros and cons, the choice of solar panel ultimately comes down to your specific property and condition settings.

    Limited Space

    Those living in a dense area with limited space should opt for highly efficient monocrystalline modules to make the most of the physical space and maximize utility savings. If budget permits, going for PERC panels can lower energy generation costs even more in the long run.

    Large Properties

    Those with a sufficiently larger property can save on upfront costs by using polycrystalline solar panels, where a bigger panel footprint can offset the lower panel efficiency. However, a larger footprint could also mean added labor costs, so it’s not necessarily cheaper to get a higher quantity of less expensive panels. While the initial cost may be low, it may eventually be offset by reduced efficiency and higher operating expenses in the long term.

    As for thin-film solar panels, these are best suited for locations where the heavy and labor-intensive installation of crystalline silicon is not feasible. Such locations can include commercial buildings with tight spaces or thin roofs; compact spaces such as recreational vehicles and watercraft; and areas that require flexible installation instead of rigid paneling.

    Keep in mind that solar panels are designed for long-term installation, which can be as long as 25 years. So whatever type you choose to go with, make sure to do your homework to ensure that it’s the best option for your needs.

    Solar Cell, Module, Panel and Array: What’s the Difference?

    Don’t get tripped up as you’re shopping for home solar.

    Homeowners have continued to show a growing interest in solar power over recent years. In fact, US residential solar system installations increased by 19% in 2021, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. With solar power cheaper than utility supplied electricity, it is easy to see why homeowners are making the switch to this cheaper power source. But before you schedule installation of your new solar system, you should understand how it works.

    We’ll explain how solar power works, including the difference between a solar cell, module, panel and array.

    How does solar power work?

    Simply put, solar power is created when solar radiation is absorbed and turned into electricity by photovoltaic panels.

    Can solar panels save you money?

    Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.

    Residential solar systems use PV panels, which are made up of solar cells that absorb sunlight. The absorbed sunlight creates electrical charges that flow within the cell and are captured by solar panel wiring. The electricity is then converted by an inverter into alternating current, which is the type of electrical current needed to power electronics and appliances that plug into your wall sockets.

    What’s the difference between a solar cell, module, panel and array?

    It may come as a surprise that solar systems consist of many working parts.- including cells and modules, or panels, which form arrays. An individual photovoltaic device is known as a solar cell. Due to its size, it produces 1 to 2 watts of electricity, but you can easily increase the power output by connecting cells, which makes up a module or panel. And if you have multiple modules or panels connected together, this is called an array.

    Can solar panels save you money?

    Interested in understanding the impact solar can have on your home? Enter some basic information below, and we’ll instantly provide a free estimate of your energy savings.

    Now that you know how solar power works and the difference between a solar cell, module, panel and array, you’re closer to deciding if solar power is ideal for you.

    Can I really save with solar power?

    One of the main things to consider before buying solar panels is the cost. A well-known fact about solar power is that it is good for the environment, but people also associate solar power with big savings. The initial cost associated with installing solar power can be high, on average costing between 15,000 and 25,000. So how exactly can you save money with solar power?

    The cost of solar system installation can be recouped in about 6 to 9 years thanks to the annual savings on electricity. In addition to the annual savings on your energy bill. you can take advantage of rebates and tax credits like the residential solar energy tax credit, which will increase your federal income tax refund. If you qualify, you get a tax credit equal to 30% of the cost of the system. (That’s a recent increase thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act just signed into law.)

    While it may take some time to recoup the cost of a rooftop solar array, making an informed decision can help make the payback period shorter. Brush up on when ground-mounted solar panels make sense. the ins and outs of net metering

    , and the best angle and direction for solar panels. If you’re ready to go solar, know what red flags to look out for in a sales pitch and how long installation will take. Not looking to buy? Check out how to go solar in smaller, cheaper steps.

    Analysts Apply New Approach To Understand Consumer Decisions About Aging Modules, Identify Secondary Markets Toward a Circular Economy

    By 2050, there could be 80 million metric tons globally of solar photovoltaics (PV) reaching the end of their lifetime, with 10 million metric tons in the United States alone—or the weight of 30 Empire State Buildings.

    To maximize the value of solar PV materials and minimize waste, there is growing interest in sustainable end-of-life PV options and establishing a circular economy for energy materials. Most research thus far has focused on how to technically and economically recycle or reuse PV materials but does not consider how social behavior factors in. By considering consumer awareness and behavior, consumers could become a part of the solution and help accelerate the adoption of circular economy approaches.

    “Consumer awareness and attitude are an important piece of the puzzle that must be considered in PV circular economy research and solutions,” said Julien Walzberg, lead author of a new article titled “Role of Social Factors in Success of Solar Photovoltaic Reuse and Recycle Programs” in Nature Energy. “A solution may be technically feasible, but if there’s no incentive for consumers to do it, it won’t work.”

    For the first time, Walzberg and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysts applied agent-based modeling to end-of-life PV management to understand how people make decisions about recycling or reusing PV modules—marking a major shift in how we understand the potential for circular economy strategies to be successful. As discussed in a follow-on Nature Energy article, the NREL analysis shows the importance of factoring in peer influence and attitudes toward recycling to reflect the real-world situation and accelerate circular economy strategies. The authors of the accompanying article—including Professor Martin Green of University of New South Wales, recipient of the Alternative Nobel prize in 2002 and Global Energy Prize in 2018—make a call for all future research on circular economy strategies to consider social factors like Walzberg demonstrated for the first time.

    Agent-Based Modeling of PV End-of-Life Management

    Agent-based modeling represents a group of customers as agents, or independent decision-making entities that are trained based on data to simulate decisions made on behalf of the people they represent.

    NREL’s study modeled four agents: PV owners, installers, recyclers, and manufacturers. Agents choose to repair, reuse, recycle, landfill, or store an aging PV module under different scenarios, like varying recycling costs or policies.

    Based on agent decisions, the model calculates PV mass avoided in landfills and costs to society like costs for manufacturers or net revenue for recyclers and installers. The model also factors in the learning effect for module recycling, or the decrease in recycling costs due to larger volumes and technology advancement.

    Today’s Conditions Do Not Encourage PV Recycling

    In the baseline scenario that reflects today’s conditions, 500 gigawatts of PV are assumed to be installed in the U.S. by 2050 (compared to 104 gigawatts in 2020), generating 9.1 million metric tons of PV waste. Based on the limited information publicly available today, the authors modeled average recycling cost of 28 per module, repair at 65 per module, and landfill at 1.38 per module, where used modules are modeled to be sold at 36% of new module prices.

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    From 2020 to 2050 in the modeled baseline conditions, approximately 80% of modules are landfilled, 1% are reused, and 10% are recycled. With today’s material recovery rate, the recycled mass totals just 0.7 million metric tons through 2050, or approximately 8%.

    “With today’s technology, PV modules are difficult to separate, and the process recovers mostly low-value materials,” Walzberg said. “Because of this, there currently isn’t enough revenue from recycling to offset the high costs, and therefore very little mass is recycled. Our model shows this could lead to a major waste problem by 2050.”

    Lower Recycling Costs Increase Recycling Rate

    As modeled, lower recycling costs lead to more recycled PV modules. For example, a recycling cost of 18 per module (10 less than today’s rate) could potentially increase the recycling rate by 36% in 2050.

    However, even when recycling costs are still relatively high, social influence can increase the recycling rate. When PV owners know fellow PV owners who recycle and there is general positive attitude toward recycling, the rate increases. This indicates early adopters could help set the trend for others to follow.

    comprehensive, guide, solar, panel

    “The bump in recycling from social influence shows that adopting a social perspective is important to fully realize and achieve higher material recovery,” Walzberg said.

    Another scenario in the study explored the potential impact of a subsidy on recycling rates. Simulations showed that substantially reducing recycling costs through subsidies could encourage recycling and lead to a virtuous circle by increasing the recycled volume, helping to drive down costs for later adopters and increasing recycling volumes more.

    Higher Material Recovery an Economic Win

    Today’s mechanical recycling processes for PV modules typically recover lower-quality materials that are less valuable. Emerging high-recovery recycling processes recover more valuable materials like silver, copper, and silicon that can be used again.

    In scenarios with the high-recovery process, recycler cumulative net income increases by 1.3 billion in 2050. Add in higher recycling rates or lower recycling costs, and the value of recycled PV modules increases further.

    A circular economy for energy materials reduces waste and preserves resources by designing materials and products with reuse, recycling, and upcycling in mind from the start.

    Reuse Could Help Establish PV Circular Economy

    Reusing PV modules shows some promise as a circular economy approach. When PV modules have longer warranties, and people perceive new and used modules as having the same value, the reuse rate increases from 1% to 23% in 2050. Because the reuse pathway competes with recycling, the recycling rate decreases to below 1% in that scenario. However, the overall landfill avoidance rate still increases. over, even when nearly all limitations on PV reuse are removed, the supply of reused modules can only meet one-third of growing PV demand.

    “While it is possible to reuse a PV module, it doesn’t have the same power efficiency and life expectancy the second time around, so there are limitations to focusing on reuse as the main PV circular economy strategy,” Walzberg said. “Reuse and recycling strategies can be developed in concert. Understanding this interplay is important to move toward solutions that avoid landfilling while maximizing renewable energy generation.”

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