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Renewable Energy Risk Insights: Solar Panel Disposal

Solar energy is a relatively new technology, so standards for disposal of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are still uncharted waters. However, if you are considering buying a green building that uses solar energy, or if you are involved in the installation of solar panels or PV cell manufacturing, it is important to plan ahead for your potential liabilities.

Until regulatory officials determine who is responsible and can be held liable for solar panel disposal, carefully consider the risks before you sell your PV product, begin installation or decide to purchase green facilities for your business.

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, concerns about the dangers of solar panel disposal will not be widespread for another decade.

But it’s never too early to begin thinking about the best way to dispose of solar panels, because you could be liable for hazards PV modules cause during the disposal process.

Recycling PV Modules

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 the thin-film and silicon modules.

When possible, opt for recycling. If the manufacturer takes the panels back for disposal, ask whether they will be thrown away or recycled to ensure you know the risks when handing the product back.

Landfill Dangers

Whole panels or smaller parts that cannot be recycled will inevitably end up in a landfill. 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 damage PV panels could cause if the casing cracks or breaks while buried. If you are responsible for disposal, 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 current of government standards, it could very well be you or your business. If you opt for disposal, talk to Sirelark Risk Services about what kind of cover you currently have to protect you if something goes wrong in the landfill down the road.

Get Covered

Whether you are a business owner going green, a contractor performing solar panel installations or a PV module manufacturer, proper cover for your green risks is crucial. You will need to protect yourself against possible design defects in green systems and the added hazards if those systems fail to meet standards.

Don’t forget cover for disposal or recycling liabilities, even though it may not affect you directly for years to come. Read contracts carefully to determine if you are responsible for safe disposal to avoid costly claims.

If your current policy does not specifically address green risks, contact Sirelark Risk Services today to find out what the limits are and whether you will need to have a more inclusive policy.

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The content of this publication is of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances or jurisdiction. It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of all matters relevant to its subject matter. The content should not, therefore, be regarded as constituting legal advice and not be relied upon as such. In relation to any particular problem which they may have, readers are advised to seek specific advice from their own legal counsel. Further, the law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly. © 2010, 2012-2013 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.

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