Neil – a second grader from Minnesota – is concerned about solar panel recycling


Hi Neil,

Thank you for writing me a letter. I think it’s cool that kids in 2nd grade are thinking about solar panels. I didn’t think about solar panels until I was in the 12th grade.

I also like getting letters written to me by other people; it’s very nice.

The picture above is of a solar panel system my company recently installed.  The building is over 100 years old, and the business that owns the building has now built five solar power systems.

I like your questions, and I like that it upsets you a little bit that not enough is being done yet! For some of us, it will be our jobs for our whole lives to make sure we take care of the world’s problems. It’s part of being a human being, part of being an adult.

Your first question is about recycling solar panels, and some of the parts that could be toxic to our environment. Right now, there is a lot of work being done on recycling solar panels — but since the industry is still very small, very spread out, and young — it’s hard to do.

But we are learning!

For instance, scientists in Germany made new solar cells from old solar cells – and the new solar cells were just as good as the old ones. This picture below shows a little bit of the process.

By-products of the treatment process at Reiling GmbH, from which the solar cell fragments are separated and collected (left). Purified silicon and wafers made from 100% recycled silicon (middle). PERC solar cells made of 100 % recycled silicon with an efficiency of 19.7 percent (right).

Image: Fraunhofer ISC

Recycling is hard to do though. It takes a lot of time to learn how to do it, and to find enough old solar panels to recycle.

Another set of scientists in Colorado did research, and came up with the idea that if we supported a solar panel recycling company with a little bit of money from everyone, we could make a good business out of old solar panels in just over ten years.

Here’s an article I wrote on that paper, where I did some research and math, and found out that if all new solar panels paid about $1 each to the solar panel recycling factory, we could responsibly make it so no solar panels would ever go into landfills.

Did you know? California has already put a law in place that no one is allowed to throw away solar panels? Some people do care a lot!

Also, about lead — lead is very bad for us — and that’s why recycling is important. But do understand, solar panels are made in a way that it’s very, very hard for what’s inside the solar panel to get outside.

That’s why they can last so long.

In fact, a tornado once hit a solar power plant – and broke up some solar panels — but, nothing bad for the environment got out. This is because of how solar panels are made.

So, now I’m going to answer the rest of your questions:

Do you believe solar panels are worth it?

  • Yes, I do.

Can solar panels really be recycled?

Is there a way to reuse/repurpose solar panels?

Do solar panels hurt animals?

  • Mostly no, but sometimes animals (like birds flying fast) get confused and might hit a building, or a solar panel, and that does hurt. Sometimes animals eat the grass under solar panels, and that can help the environment a lot.

Do you have a pet?

  • I used to have a cat named Venus. She lived to be 18 years old.

What is your favorite food?

  • Vegetables (I like beets and sweet potatoes a lot) plus a protein like chicken, or fish, or chickpeas, or beans.

What country would you like to move to?

  • Switzerland or Japan

Thank you for writing to me Neil. I like that you care about this, and am happy that kids in school are learning about electricity and the environment.


Editor’s note: Neil – from a second grade class in Minnesota – mailed our author a letter at his home. Since Neil’s teacher hasn’t responded to our communications, we’re going to respond here first, but also going to print out and mail near a copy of this to Neil.

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