Sunset Renewables: creating a circular economy for solar panels
Renewable technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage are essential to addressing the climate crisis. But like every product, they’ll produce waste at the end of their life if there isn’t a plan to recycle or reuse their parts. Dan Carrocci, President of Sunset Renewables, is the person making that plan.
Sunset Renewables is currently the only Canadian company focused on recycling renewable energy waste. They take waste material from solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage, and convert them into useful raw materials like aluminum, glass, copper, silver, and silicon. This circular approach diverts waste from landfills and reduces the need for new natural resource extraction.
“Although it may seem early, now is the time to develop the processes and technologies to recycle renewable infrastructure,” Dan told Bullfrog. “That’s how we can become future ready and support the long-term success of green energy.”
Sunset Renewables is participating in the Centre for Social Innovation’s Earth Tech, an accelerator for startups and nonprofits working on climate and freshwater solutions. The bullfrogpowered community supports Earth Tech and its cohort through our community projects grant.
The dawn of an idea
For the past 20 years, Dan has owned and managed a company called Determination Drilling. What started as a drilling business quickly evolved into providing construction services for solar, wind, and battery storage infrastructure. They’ve worked on several sources of Bullfrog Power’s green electricity, including the Fisher River Cree Nation Solar Project and the Burdett and Yellow Lake Solar Project.
Out of curiosity, Dan spoke with industry colleagues about what happens to the materials et early loss or end of life. “It became clear that no one had the answer,” Dan said. “There was no defined process or infrastructure to manage this ‘green elephant,’ so I decided to take on the challenge and the opportunity.”
Dan admits that the renewable industry, himself included, is very focused on building and selling. But for the rapid deployment of renewable energy to be successful in the long term, it’s critical to establish circular solutions with holistic industry buy-in. That idea led directly to Sunset Renewables, which helps the renewable energy industry achieve sustainability through circularity.
“We’ve got the industry thinking about circular economy,” Dan said. “We’ve already recycled over 7,500 solar modules from various projects throughout Canada.”
Progress and policy
Dan aims to bring all industry stakeholders on board—from asset owners and developers to insurance providers and associations. Sunset Renewables is actively involved with pilot studies and working groups on different levels of governance, and Dan believes there would be more clean energy adoption if there was a clear mandate to manage the associated waste.
One of Dan’s major challenges is that landfilling solar panels is cheap and easy: any landfill will accept a solar panel at $1.90/module. Although this isn’t a sustainable solution, it is cheap and discreet. In response, Sunset is working with various recycling associations to create the policy and legislation to divert renewable energy waste material from landfills.
“There are over 100,000 solar panels being installed every hour globally,” Dan said. “That means that one day, we’ll need the global infrastructure to recycle over 100,000 panels every hour.”
Sunset Renewables is working to stay ahead of that need. By refining their technologies and processes and scaling their business, they hope to provide a recycling solution for all Canadians.