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A Guide to Decommissioning Solar Panels

Decomissioning solar panels

As solar energy capacity increases, so will the eventual need to decommission photovoltaic (PV) projects. Although this will become a bigger issue in the next decade or two, some solar panels are being decommissioned today. Perhaps the solar array had defective solar panels, the manufacturer no longer exists, or the output of an older project is unimpressive compared to the high-efficiency solar panels and equipment readily available today.

Although few companies specialize in decommissioning solar panels, it is a straightforward process that is similar to solar PV system installation in reverse. However, instead of procuring PV panels and equipment, you’ll hopefully be repurposing or recycling them. Decommissioning solar panels is a growing business opportunity in the clean energy industry with increasing demand.

What Does It Mean To Decommission Solar Panels?

Decommissioning large-scale commercial solar farms involves removing all the PV panels and components and restoring the project site. Solar equipment includes a racking system, wiring, solar inverters, transformers, conduit, fencing, and foundations, which can often be repurposed or recycled. Restoring the site can include de-compacting soils, backfilling excavations, removing access roads, revegetation, or returning the land for agricultural use.

Some states have laws that impact the solar decommissioning process by requiring solar developers to create a decommissioning plan for solar farms of a certain size. Some also require financial assurance, such as a surety bond, to follow the decommissioning plan. In addition, Washington State has a law requiring solar panel manufacturers “to provide the public a convenient and environmentally sound way to recycle all modules purchased after July 1, 2017.”

The Process of Decommissioning Solar Panels

Solar contractors begin by creating a decommissioning plan or referring to an existing plan, if available, for dismantling the equipment and returning the land to its original state. Before starting this process, it’s important to conduct research to determine if local ordinances or solar decommissioning laws exist in your state so you know what you are legally required to do. In addition, it can be helpful to determine how the landowner wants to use the land in the future.

It’s critical to identify where the materials will go after dismantling the solar farm and if reusing the solar panels and other equipment is an option. Some companies specialize in removing, transporting, and refurbishing solar panels. Many solar photovoltaic plant owners value sustainability during the decommissioning process, so they repurpose solar panels and equipment whenever feasible and minimize waste going to landfills.

Decommissioning a solar project requires similar safety equipment as the installation process. To promote worker safety, it’s critical to turn off the solar system. Likewise, equipment such as skid-steer loaders and excavators is needed to remove and transport the dismantled solar panels, racking, fencing, foundations, and equipment and to perform site work.

solar decommissioning

What To Do With Decommissioned Solar Panel System Components?

When you create a solar decommissioning plan, identify what you will do with the solar panels, inverters, racking system, and other components.

Repurposing Decommissioned Solar Panels and Equipment

Some companies are taking advantage of business opportunities related to end-of-life management by specializing in refurbishing and selling used PV modules and components. Although older solar panels typically produce less electricity than new ones, many still generate clean energy. Therefore, there is a secondary market for PV modules and other components.

If you plan to reuse or resell the solar panels, handle them carefully when dismantling the system to avoid damage. Some companies, such as FabTech Services and We Recycle Solar, specialize in refurbishing and selling used solar panels. Other installers sell reusable modules directly to clients, other solar installers, and online or donate them to charities. Also, selling or donating second-hand solar panels locally helps reduce shipping costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Recycling PV Panel And Components

Not all modules are suitable for reuse, and other disposal options are necessary. Although many of the materials in solar modules are recyclable, they can be quite expensive because of the labor involved in dismantling them. However, solar panel recycling is more sustainable than disposing of them in landfills, and recycling facilities help conserve raw materials.

The SEIA launched the National PV Recycling Program and has designated Preferred Recycling Partners that meet the SEIA’s standards. Solar inverters are commonly recycled with electronic waste and racking systems with similar metal scrap. As more solar installations reach the end of their useful lives, the ease of recycling component parts will hopefully equally improve.

How Much Does It Cost To Decommission A Commercial Solar System?

The costs of decommissioning solar farms vary depending on their size, location, and complexity. Covering the decommissioning expenses is the responsibility of the project owner, not the local community or landowner.

Some of the most labor-intensive aspects of removing the solar equipment include dismantling and removing the racking system and removing ground screws and power poles. If you’re creating a decommissioning plan for the future, also factor in inflation.

Estimated decommissioning costs for a 2-megawatt solar farm in Massachusetts include the costs of dismantling a project, but not equipment disposal costs, which vary depending on if there is a secondary market for repurposed components. The costs outlined below are estimates; actual decommissioning costs may vary.

Decommissioning Tasks

Estimated Costs for 2 MW Solar Farm

Remove Rack Wiring


Remove PV Panels


Dismantle Racking System


Remove Electrical Equipment


Break Up and Remove Pads or Ballasts


Remove Racking System


Remove Cables


Remove Ground Screws and Power Poles


Remove Fencing


Land Grading


Seed Disturbed Areas


Truck to Recycling Center




What is the Process for Decommissioning a Solar Power Plant?

The decommissioning process for a solar power plant involves several important steps. It typically begins with a comprehensive assessment of the site, including a review of permits, contracts, and environmental considerations. The specific process may vary depending on the size and complexity of the solar power plant, as well as local regulations and requirements.

Here are some key steps commonly involved in decommissioning a solar power plant:

  • Planning and Preparation: This phase involves developing a decommissioning plan that outlines the scope, timeline, and procedures for dismantling and removing the solar panels and related infrastructure. It also includes obtaining any required permits or approvals.

  • Safety and Environmental Considerations: Prior to decommissioning, safety measures are implemented to protect workers and the environment. These may include the removal and proper disposal of hazardous materials such as batteries and other electronic components, as well as the implementation of erosion control and water management strategies.

  • Equipment & Solar Panel Removal: The solar panels, inverters, and other equipment are safely disassembled and removed from the site. In some cases, components may be recycled or repurposed.

  • PV Power Plant Site Restoration: After the equipment is removed, the site needs to be properly restored. This may involve activities such as soil remediation, vegetation restoration, and erosion control measures.

  • Financial Responsibility: Solar power plant owners often set aside funds to cover the costs of decommissioning a solar power plant. These funds ensure that the decommissioning process can be properly executed and that the site can be restored without burdening taxpayers or the local community.

FAQs About Dismantling Solar Panel Systems

Gain answers to common questions about solar decommissioning.

What happens to old solar panels?

Old solar panels can be recycled, repurposed, or disposed of in landfills, though recycling is the preferred option. Recycling involves extracting valuable materials like silicon, glass, and metals for reuse. Specialized recycling facilities can handle the disassembly and processing of solar panels. Repurposing involves using old panels in less critical applications where efficiency is less important. However, improper disposal can lead to environmental harm, so proper recycling or repurposing is encouraged to minimize waste and environmental impact.

What is a decommissioning bond for a solar project?

A decommissioning bond for solar projects is a financial guarantee by the developer to cover the costs of dismantling and removing solar installations at the end of their life. This ensures the site can be restored to its original condition, protecting landowners and communities from potential abandonment or environmental hazards from obsolete solar infrastructure.

Can solar panels go to landfills?

Unfortunately, if solar panels are not adequately disposed of, they can leach chemicals into groundwater, polluting it. Also, solar PV panels contain a lot of raw materials, including copper, steel, aluminum, zinc, and silver, that will be wasted if disposed of in landfills. Therefore, proper handling and recycling are essential to ensure that the solar PV industry reduces the amount of waste they add to landfills.

Decommissioning Solar Power Plants Is Becoming Increasingly Common

Although solar power systems are designed to last decades, some owners are choosing to decommission PV projects early in favor of newer models or for other reasons. Because the solar industry is relatively young, this aspect of the market is still evolving. In particular, the secondary market for solar panels and equipment is rapidly changing. Solar decommissioning services can create business opportunities for some solar companies wishing to expand their offerings.

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