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Solar energy is a relatively new technology, so standards for disposal of solar panels and photovoltaic (PV) modules are still uncharted waters. However, if you are considering buying a green building that uses solar energy, or involved in the installation of solar panels or PV cell manufacturing, it is important to think 30 years down the road to your potential solar energy liabilities when it comes to disposal. One of the biggest questions in the industry right now is who should be held responsible for solar panel disposal. Until officials answer this question, consider the following points before you decide to take part in the green movement.
Solar Panel Life Cycle
The average lifespan of a PV module is between 25 and 30 years. Since the first large-scale installations of solar panels did not occur until the early 1990s, the first concerns about the dangers of solar panel disposal will not emerge for another 10 or 15 years. However, it is still an important point to address. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the industry will skyrocket by 2020 and produce an ever-growing PV waste stream for years to come. Think about these risks before you sell your PV product, begin installation or decide to purchase green facilities for your business.
You could be held liable for any hazards PV modules cause during the disposable process, even if the product is out of your hands and in a landfill at the time the incident occurs. Therefore, if you know your business is responsible for the disposal of PV products, consider recycling as a less risky option.
Industry leaders are calling for producers and manufacturers to consider the environmental impacts of the green movement at all stages of the product life cycle. According to the PV Cycle Association, PV modules contain materials that can be recovered and reused to make new modules or other products. This holds true for both types of products in production today, the thin-film and silicon modules.
Since there are currently no concrete guidelines to determine which party is responsible for solar panel disposal, play it safe—opt for recycling panels where possible. If the manufacturer takes the panels back for disposal, ask the company whether they will be thrown away or recycled to ensure you know your risks when handing the product back.
Whole panels or smaller parts that cannot be recycled will inevitably end up in a landfill. In general, experts say that solar panels and other PV products are safe for landfills because the PV materials themselves are encased in glass or plastic. However, there is some debate about the amount of damage PV panels could cause should the encasing crack or break while buried. If you are responsible for disposal, you must decide how large of a risk you want to take.
PV semiconductor manufacturing involves extremely toxic, carcinogenic materials, including arsine, cadmium, dichloromethane, trichloroethylene and selenium. If the heavy metals leach into surrounding soil and into the groundwater, someone will inevitably be held liable. Given the lack of governmental standards on the matter as of now, and without proper coverage, it could very well be you or your business. If you opt for disposal rather than recycling, talk to The Safegard Group, Inc. about what kind of coverage you currently have to protect you if something goes wrong in the landfill down the road.
Whether you are a business owner going green, a contractor performing solar panel installations or a PV module manufacturer, seeking out the proper coverage for your green risks is crucial. You will need to protect yourself against the added hazards of green building if green systems fail to meet standards and against possible design defects in green systems. In addition, do not forget to seek coverage for disposal or recycling liabilities, even though it may not affect you directly for years to come. Read all contracts carefully to determine whether you are responsible for safe disposal to avoid devastatingly costly claims down the road.
If your current policy does not specifically address green risks, contact The Safegard Group, Inc. today to find out what the limits are and whether you will need to have a more inclusive policy.