Reuse, Repair and Refurbish (Designs, Systems and O&M for reuse)
Rationale for support
Recycling is the default strategy today for decommissioned PV modules in Europe. However, in the next 10-15 years it is estimated that up to 80 % of the PV “waste” stream con- sists of products with premature failures (IRENA/IEA-PVPS, 2016), such as production defects or damages from trans- portation and installation, instead of products reaching the end of their designed technical life. H2020 CIRCUSOL (54) es- timated that about 2/3 of these PV modules can be repaired or refurbished. Therefore, about 50 % of the PV “waste” can be diverted from the recycling path. In reality, the ratio is likely to be even higher since decommissioned functional PV modules currently also enter the “waste” stream.
Reuse, repair and refurbish remain rather informal in the PV industry today. These activities are currently performed by independent private companies, without any support from the original manufacturers. There are currently hard- ly any regulations or standards on the testing, certification and labelling. In addition to this, cost related to reliability and safety testing for PV module re-use could hinder any emerging business model.
The Terawatt Era of PV modules is approaching fast, and it is raising important questions about end-of-life manage- ment as 8 million tons of PV waste by 2030 is projected by latest studies. Based to the latest available (2019) figures reported on the growth of PV installations, (55) we can es- timate that about 1-1.2 million PV modules are installed every day around the world. With this in mind, and with an average annual failure rate of 0.2 % in the field, (56) we may anticipate approximately 8 million PV modules to fail every year, corresponding to an annual weight of 144 kt of potential PV waste from PV failures only. Adding also other PV waste sources and streams, such as the decom- missioning of PV modules due to end of service lifetime, repowering, insurance/contractual claims, etc., the cumu- lative PV waste is expected to reach up to 8 Mt by 2030. (57) PV systems installed in the 2010s in the first big wave of solar technology are coming to an end. Hence, a major PV repowering wave is starting in Western EU countries. This means that well-functioning 10-15 years old PV modules are replaced in utility-scale PV power plants.
Latest research on the potential of circular economy in the PV sector indicates that 45 %-65 % of decommissioned PV modules with occurred failures can be, in principle, re- paired/refurbished and reused, thus being diverted from today’s default “linear” path that leads to simple disposal or (at best case) partial recycling of such PV modules. (58) This strategy is also beneficial for Roadmap 1 as in fact reduces the use of raw materials as it extends PV module useful lifetime. Through the CIRCUSOL project, researchers have identified that several failures can be repaired or mit- igated already in an economically viable way – particularly junction box and bypass diode failures, potential induced degradation (PID), defective frames and some types of backsheet defects and soiling-induced hot spots. On this basis, three key factors-metrics are identified today as in- dispensable to assess and justify the technical/economic bankability of PV reuse business:
- The addressable volume (linked to market profita- bility)
- The second-life product reliability and remaining efficiency certificate (linked to market confidence)
- Reuse and repair integration in the current PV value chain
Embracing a circular economic model for this maturing industry brings a major opportunity to ensure that PV be- comes one of the most sustainable sources of energy. In the circular economy approach reuse and repair actions are playing a core role to prolong the useful life of PV modules avoiding their early entry in the waste stream. Additionally, replacement of damaged PV modules produced > 5 years ago by new ones becomes increasingly difficult due to swiftly changing PV modules sizes and properties. Re-used or repaired PV modules could serve as a source of spare parts for PV systems, prolonging those systems' operation.
The modules installed in the PV installation boom of 15 years ago are starting to be decommissioned. Re-use of PV modules is a nascent sector with companies operating in an uncharted and mostly unregulated domain. The PV re- use market is growing with approximately 15 companies worldwide moving around 500-600 MWp (or 40000 tons) of PV modules yearly including 200 MWp/year in Europe.
Targets, Type of Activity and TRL
Reversible materials aiming to reduce recycling costs (elements in the module permitting an easier and cheaper recyclability)
Novel generation of PV front and backsheet materi- als, coatings designed for re-use (by 2025)
Front and backsheet, glass repair materials and technologies with broad range compatibility be- tween material types validated through laboratory and field tests
Design, develop and validate non-destructive char- acterisation techniques for rapid assessment of the state-of-health of PV module front and back sheets coatings, packaging materials and assess possible material (in) compatibilities
PV interconnection materials and technologies with self-healing and/or resiliency to failure properties
Novel generation of PV front and backsheet materi- als, coatings designed for re-use validated in accel- erated reliability testing and outdoor test facilities (by 2028)
Detailed technical solutions for PV module repair of outer packaging layers, electrical connections, delamination validated with extensive accelerated and outdoor reliability testing
Develop in-depth insights in reversible failure mechanisms and devise field curing methods (e.g. PID, LeTID, etc.)
Deployment of repair technology solutions in up- scaled and semi-automated remanufacturing lines
Introduction, qualification and industrialization/ upscaling of PV module (and system) designs with higher degree of repairability and/or modularity (which in turn facilitates repairability) and re-use. Dedicated solutions are needed for (mass) custom- ised products.
Develop automated and /or field-testing methods for quality assessment for re-use PV modules state- of-health, performance, safety assessment and sorting.
Identification and tracking solutions (e.g. RFID) at PV components/modules/system level, to facilitate reverse logistics, sorting/inventory of PV and ware- house operations.
Define and validate wide-range, standardised re- use PV module quality requirements with quantita- tive guidelines included for testing, sorting, repair
Re-used or repaired PV modules could serve as a source of spare parts for PV systems, prolonging those systems' operation.
Novel BOS components enabling multiple-re-in- stallation of PV modules – adapted to multiple PV module sizes, weight, enabling fast and repeated in- stallation without damage and durable for 50 years (e.g. in residential and urban context allow the PV system to be gradually adapted)
PV module and system electronics, O&M adapted to deal with potentially disparate modules
Study local solutions for local circular O&M strat- egies, supply chain for “spare” modules to enable 10-15+ years old PV system repair despite changing technologies
Re-use PV operations are integrated in the EU O&M value chain
(Automated) detection, diagnostics and classifi- cation (incl. recommendation) of repair or re-use operations in PV asset management tools for utility and commercial- and industrial-sized size PV plants
Registering PV system decommissioning to gain in- sights in the addressable market volume
Progressive revamping / repowering concepts to keep health status of PV plant high and ensure sus- tainability by developing reuse concept for obsolete (from an utility scale PV investment viewpoint) com- ponents
Value chain creation & New revenue streams
The role of digitalisation:
|KPI||Target Value (2030)|
|% repair/reuse after EoL of first life PV|
|Years of operation for reused modules|
|Cumulative lifetime minimum (defined as 80 % of initial performance)|
|Demonstrate increasing amount of repair/reuse up to 50-60 % and implementation of clear triage|
protocols in the EoL sector for first life PV < 15 years