Solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment has grown at unprecedented rates since the early 2000s. As the global PV market increases, so will the volume of decommissioned PV panels, and large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s. Growing PV panel waste presents a new environmental challenge, but also unprecedented opportunities to create value and pursue new economic avenues.
This report, prepared jointly by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme (IEA-PVPS), is the first-ever projection of PV panel waste volumes to 2050. It highlights that recycling or repurposing solar PV panels at the end of their roughly 30-year lifetime can unlock an estimated stock of 78 million tonnes of raw materials and other valuable components globally by 2050. If fully injected back into the economy, the value of the recovered material could exceed USD 15 billion by 2050.
Sectors like PV recycling will be essential in the world’s transition to a sustainable, economically viable and increasingly renewables-based energy future. To unlock the benefits of such PV end-of-life industries, the institutional groundwork must be laid in time to meet the expected surge in panel waste. Policy action is needed to address the challenges ahead, with enabling frameworks being adapted to the needs and circumstances of each region or country.
Cumulative waste volumes of PV panels by 2050, by country