Preliminary Environmental and Financial Viability Analysis of Circular Economy Scenarios for Satisfying PV System Service Lifetime: IEA PVPS Task 12: PV Sustainability

Neetha Rajagopalan, Anse Smeets, Karolien Peeters, Sofie De Regel, Tom Rommens, Ke Wang, Philppe Stolz, Rolf Frischknecht, Garvin Heath, Dwarakanath Ravikumar

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


PV deployment has grown rapidly in recent decades, and this growth is expected to continue. At the same time, the rapid increase in PV panel efficiencies offers the opportunity to repower/revamp existing installations - replacing operational, lower-efficiency panels before the end of their 30-year service lifetime with newer, higher-efficiency panels. As a result, an increasing volume of PV panels could be decommissioned well before reaching the end of their 30-year service lifetime. Two broad strategies can be applied to manage the expected increase in decommissioned PV panels: (i) recycle prematurely decommissioned panels, and (ii) prevent recycling of these panels by satisfying the typical service lifetime of 30 years through circular economy strategies such as repair and reuse. Each strategy presents an environmental and economic trade-off. Retaining and satisfying the lifetime of the older, lower-efficiency panels avoids environmental burdens from recycling or landfilling but incurs burdens from additional repair and forgoing the opportunity to install newer panels with greater electricity-generation capabilities. This study assesses whether satisfying the expected service lifetime of a PV system through circular economy scenarios generates a greater environmental and financial benefit than recycling used panels and installing newer panels with higher efficiencies. The circular economy scenarios include repair and reuse of the PV system. Specifically, the study determines whether it is better for the environment to keep a PV panel in use for its 30-year service life after accounting for potential repair and additional transportation, or to replace older panels with more efficient new ones. In addition, we explore whether satisfying the service lifetime of PV panels proves competitive with the recycling route from a financial perspective.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages69
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

NREL's Garvin Heath is a task manager of IEA PVPS Task 12

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-80997

Other Report Number

  • Report IEA-PVPS T12-21:2021


  • LCOE
  • life cycle assessment
  • net present value
  • photovoltaics
  • recycling
  • repair
  • reuse
  • technoeconomic


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