Understanding Solar Decommissioning


When you first evaluate a solar energy installation, its decommissioning may seem like a lifetime away — something you don’t need to consider just yet. However, the best time to plan for decommissioning could be sooner than you think.  

To help owners manage the project lifecycle from beginning to end, some states, such as Louisiana, Minnesota, and Vermont, require a solar decommissioning plan before a project can start. Even if an official end-of-life (EOL) plan isn’t a requirement for your solar photovoltaic (PV) system, it’s a good idea to think ahead, as older arrays still provide value.

But what is the expected lifespan of a solar array? And what’s involved in removing or replacing a PV system? As you’ll see, partnering with responsible solar providers streamlines the decommissioning process and supports a circular economy of resources.

How Long Does a Solar PV System Last?

The productive lifespan of a PV system can be difficult to estimate. Still, the standard range is between 25 and 35 years, which is plenty of time for a system owner to see a return on their investment. (Thanks to energy cost savings, installation costs can be recouped as quickly as five years into the system’s life.) Carrying out regular maintenance maximizes the lifetime of an array. By creating an operations and maintenance (O&M) plan, you can identify problems before they begin. Typically, O&M tasks include:

  • System testing, along with any follow-up repairs
  • Panel cleaning to address soiling
  • Inspecting panels for cracks or damage

Monitoring system performance will help predict when equipment is reaching EOL. And when that happens, you have two choices: Extend the life of your current system or decommission it.

What Is Solar Decommissioning?

While retrofitting an older PV system with newer components, such as a modern inverter, can extend the system’s useful life, decommissioning may be prudent. Solar decommissioning involves removing system components and returning a site to its original state; it’s a way to start fresh with more effective technology and hardware. Mike Murray, Program Director at HelioPower, says, “People want to expand, and it just doesn’t make sense to build new technology around an old system when you can get so much more energy in such a smaller footprint for lower cost.”  Besides making way for a more efficient system, solar decommissioning is also an opportunity for infrastructure improvements. For example, pairing up a rooftop decommissioning project with a roof repair or replacement.  During decommissioning, these system components are removed:

  • Panels
  • Racking
  • Wires
  • Inverters and transformers

A solar decommissioning contractor can help you plan for removing parts and sending them for reuse or recycling.

What Happens to Solar Equipment After Decommissioning?

With more and more new PV systems coming online, it’s clear that there will be a significant demand for solar decommissioning. Many specialized companies have already started dismantling, repurposing, and recycling solar components.

Solarcycle, a recycling company based out of Texas, says their process can “extract 95% of valuable materials” from solar modules — including silver, silicon, copper, and aluminum — “and return them back to the solar supply chain.

Project Spotlight: Target Decommissions Solar Array With a Focus on Sustainability

Target Corporation and PowerFlex partnered with Decom Solar and Solarcycle to remove a 360-kilowatt rooftop solar array from Target’s Los Angeles, California, facility. Responsibly removing the legacy system supports Target’s sustainability goals and, at the same time, makes space for a new, more advanced solar PV system by PowerFlex.

Over three weeks, Decom Solar removed Target’s old system, which included Shell Powerlight modules, Xantrax inverters, and the integrated PowerGuard flat-racking solution. Solarcycle received the parts for processing, recycling, and integration back into the supply chain.  

Each partner’s dedication to responsible solar decommissioning was critical to the project. According to Stephen Burns, co-founder of Decom Solar, “PowerFlex continues to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, and this is one of many projects we have worked on together to decommission projects safely and responsibly.”  

Lucie Dupas, Chief Delivery Officer at PowerFlex, echoes that sentiment. “We are thrilled to have partnered with Decom Solar on this project. This collaboration brings together our collective expertise and shared commitment to environmental responsibility, allowing us to lead by example in the solar industry.”

Ongoing Sustainability With PowerFlex

End-of-life for a solar PV system doesn’t have to be its final chapter; it can be a fresh start. Solar decommissioning is an opportunity to upgrade technologies, improve green initiatives, and set new sustainability goals.  

PowerFlex understands the entirety of the solar energy project lifecycle — from system design and engineering to installation and beyond. We’re a national provider of solar PV infrastructure. In addition to solar, we offer EV charging, battery energy storage, microgrid systems, and PowerFlex X™, a suite of hardware and software tools for managing, controlling, and optimizing all your onsite energy resources.

Contact us to learn about how we can help with your project.