The claimed 25-year life span of wind turbines has in reality been just 7-10 years before having to be replaced along with their enormous blades. That has significantly increased the operating costs of the wind farms and created a huge waste disposal issue that neither the industry nor state regulators were prepared to deal with. As a result, massive wind graveyards have popped up such as two gigantic ones on the outskirts of Sweetwater, Texas. The issue has been exacerbated by the government providing the tax subsidy again to wind turbines that have repowered, replacing their blades. Similarly, operators and manufacturers in the solar industry are now seeing premature ageing of their solar panels due mainly to their inverters. Many older inverters are failing in about 10-15 years. Further, most of the manufacturers of these inverters — the companies that were supposed to maintain them and guarantee their performance over time — have gone out of business. Energy being sold as “green” is proving to require more “green” money – from consumers and taxpayers.

Despite being designed for 20-25 year lifespans, the first and second generation inverters are having a 15-year average lifespan, which means the market will have to repair many inverters over the next ten years. According to projections by Wood Mackenzie, about 23 gigawatts of U.S. solar — residential, commercial and utility-scale — will approach the 15-year benchmark in the next five years. The repowering of aging solar generating units could tax aspects of the industry’s already strained supply chain, particularly due to fewer businesses as many did not survive the market.

Given the complexity of switching out inverters on some of these early solar installations, some solar equipment dealers recommend knocking out a host of potential upgrades all at once: replacing old panels and wiring with new equipment to maximize efficiencies, or installing batteries for a solar plus storage facility. Similar to wind turbine blades, disposal of the solar panels that may be removed and replaced during the inverter upgrades would cause a major waste issue.

It sounds similar to the electric bus industry with e-buses sitting idle due to lack of parts and the bankruptcy of electric bus manufacturer, Proterra. Like Proterra, these solar companies, many of which are defunct, have been heavily-subsidized by the government. Many of them did not have the private capital investment needed to sustain them over the longer term.

Australia’s Solar Panel Aging Problem Due to Rising Temperatures

New research in Australia has revealed that the country’s solar panels are degrading at faster rates due to increasing temperatures and humidity, raising concerns about the longevity of photovoltaic (PV) modules and the potential rise in energy costs. While large scale commercial PV modules are designed for a typical lifespan of 20 to 25 years, they naturally degrade or lose their efficiency over time. However, the current degradation rates are being exacerbated by temperature increases, according to an Australian researcher—precisely the resource that is supposed to create the electricity via the solar panel!

The dominant solar technology is silicon, whose wafers are stiff and brittle. The silicon modules degrade due to stress from the environment (wind, rain, snow, sun, and humidity), voltage changes and mechanical stresses. Hotter, more humid conditions can accelerate degradation in several ways:

  • Delamination: heat and humidity can cause the bonds holding the different layers of the cell together to lose adhesion
  • Discolored Encapsulant: intense sunlight and extra moisture can damage or discolor the encapsulant, the polymer used to adhere layers within the solar cell together
  • Ribbon Corrosion: humidity can increase the chances moisture can accumulate and begin corroding the internal ribbon connections of the cell
  • Internal Circuit Failure: solar cells experience regular temperature fluctuations, daily and seasonally that can cause circuits to fail over time.

The researchers found that solar in Australia’s hot, humid north will degrade fastest due to its more humid elements, while solar in the arid interior and more moderate climates in the south will fare better.

Solar Waste to Pile Up Worldwide

The world has installed more than one terawatt of solar capacity on rooftops and at solar farms. Solar panels have an average capacity of about 400 watts, resulting in as many as 2.5 billion solar panels worldwide. As the solar panels are retired, many of the panels end up in waste disposal sites as the infrastructure to scrap and recycle them is lacking. Because each solar panel contains only tiny fragments of precious materials, copper, silicon and silver, and those fragments are intertwined with other components, it has not been economically viable to separate them. Over 60 percent of the mineral value is contained in just 3 percent of the weight of the solar panels. The International Renewable Energy Agency’s official projections claim that “large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s” and could total 78 million metric tons by 2050 based mostly on a 30 year life cycle for the solar panels.


While solar panels are supposed to last 20 to 25 years, the industry is finding that not to be the case due to inverter failures that occur in about 15 years and to weather, particularly humidity. Power output from solar PV drops as solar panels degrade over time, but different climates, different materials and different manufacturing techniques can lead to faster or slower degradation. This is true of most green technologies as cold weather affects the range that EV batteries can perform and humidity affects the longevity of solar panel wafers. These issues can mean that solar panels will pile up in waste disposal sites, as retired wind turbines are doing, faster than expected as there are few recycling centers available. Politicians, regulators and the industry have not dealt with the solar waste disposal problem that will begin to loom in the near future.

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