A rusty solar PV panel approaches the end of its use.

Circular Economy for Clean Energy Equipment

Obsolete renewable energy equipment is expected to grow exponentially over the next 30 years. Instead of damaged and decommissioned photovoltaic solar power, wind turbines, and batteries for power storage piling up as waste, the life of these materials must be extended beyond their original use. 

In a circular economy, products, parts, and materials have multiple life cycles and re-entry points into  the market as they are systematically recovered, repaired, reused, and remade. Where the linear economy disposes of waste in landfills, the circular economy creates multiple opportunities for “return  cycles” or “loops” that avoid disposal. This minimizes the use of resources and the creation of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions by keeping materials, products, equipment, and infrastructure in use for  longer periods. Furthermore, a circular economy diversifies the renewable energy industry’s supply chain of critical metals by directing materials back into the market. As the clean energy transition accelerates, USAID will utilize circular economy approaches to ensure environmentally sound practices are used across the renewable energy supply chain.

USAID engages strategically with governments, the private sector, civil society, and communities to support transformational policies and initiatives and build human capital and institutional capacity to address waste challenges while creating economic value and jobs. USAID works with partners to develop new innovations, sustainable practices, business models, and secondary markets for parts and materials of renewable energy equipment. 

A circular economy for renewable energy equipment will result in a more resilient, low emissions global value chain for materials while powering economies, creating further use, and redirecting older products  away from waste dumps and back into the market. This nascent approach has the potential to uplift lives, empower women, strengthen communities, and ensure that communities and workers benefit from the transition to a new clean energy economy.

Related Content:

Promoting a Circular Economy | U.S. Agency for International Development

Clean Energy and the Circular Economy | U.S. Agency for International Development