BP Solar’s last unsustainable Act

Another fine mess courtesy of BP plc (NYSE:BP).

Earlier this month, “Frederick’s former BP site to become Vantage 70 business park” by Ed Waters Jr. for the Frederick News-Post reported on the demolition of the former BP Solar (Solarex) manufacturing site located in Frederick, Maryland USA.

BPSolarex2013-01-21-1

On Monday, an eyewitness source observed and photographed the demolition of the main structure including a portion of the sloped roof/wall integrated photovoltaic (PV) solar array as shown above. I’ve heard the PV modules were rechecked in recent years and found to be performing within specifications. The same source told me the size of the two arrays was on the order of 150 kiloWatt. I’ve been trying to find an online reference explaining the size and age of the two main systems without luck. I guesstimate over 3000 PV modules from the photos and the Google Maps satellite image.


View BP Solarex in a larger map

With regards to the PV arrays, there really were only two options: reuse or recycle. I don’t know the details of module ownership; my assumption is the modules were wholly owned by BP Solar. In any event, BP Solar and BP plc had the expert PV industry knowledge and responsibility to dismantle the PV array and dispose of the modules as appropriate before vacating the property. Otherwise, BP should have explained the options to the property owners in the case of building demolition.

BPSolarex2013-01-21-2

Looking at the Maryland eCycling homepage and the final enrolled version of House Bill 879 Statewide Electronics Recycling Program, I cannot find a reference to solar panels or PV modules classifying them as e-waste. I am trying to contact Turning Point Real Estate who is redeveloping the renamed Vantage 70 site “owned by an affiliate of Bristol Capital Corp., a Bethesda-based commercial real estate firm” according to the Frederick News-Post. I wonder if the demolished PV modules are destined for a landfill? Turning Point Real Estate may have been unaware of the best practice reuse or recycle options for the solar panels.

The latest BP Solar spill incident points out the urgency for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to accelerate efforts to establish a PV module take-back and recycling system in the United States. While very few PV systems are being dismantled today, there are still broken and defective modules from installations and the handful of US PV cell and module manufacturers in operation.

My Auctioning the BP Solar Future post was critiqued by some as premature at the time. However, it only took a few iterations in 2011 until BP Solar announced their exit from the PV industry at yearend.

8 comments

  1. Jerry Culik says:

    Ed,

    I have a souvenir (screen printed Semix poly wafer) from the dedication of the building and array (at least the initial part). The date was October 29, 1982.

  2. Al McKegg says:

    Ed,
    To me the big question is, if the modules are still operating within spec, why isn’t the owner selling them? The price of PVs has certainly come down since those were made, but they’re still worth $

  3. Heather says:

    Ed,

    I went by the demo site today as well and was shocked to see the panels being torn down and not being reused or recycled. Any luck finding out who is in charge of the demo? The site is very gated off and i couldn’t find someone to speak with. At the very least, I would like to get some panels for my house.

  4. Tom says:

    Ed,
    I worked for AirBP then BP Solar for a number of years, and while at Frederick plant I learned the array had not been used for many, many years. In fact, the storage battery system had long been removed. Design lifespan of the panels were 20 years and it began operating in 1982, hence they ‘ran out of juice’ in early 2000′s. Entirely likely they are now destined for landfill.

  5. Tom says:

    By the way, the bigger concern should be the federally reported sodium hydroxide spill that was discovered under the cell processing line floor, in an undetermined volume! We discovered the caustic soda fluid leaking outside the building under a wall. Traced back to under floor pvc piping that had been unioned with rubber fittings…. eventually dissolved by the caustic and leaking to the soil for no one knows how long! Caveat Emptor!

  6. Dave says:

    Disassembling arrays and reusing modules is easier than it sounds. Years ago ARCO Solar sold its Carrizo Plain 10MW array to an industrious gentleman who disassembled it and sold the trackers and modules on the open market. The modules originally had no warranty because they were sold internally to ARCO Solar’s construction group. After the dismantle they became a headache to ARCO Solar when the new end user wanted a warranty replacement. When told there was no warranty the end user felt they had been cheated. Therefore, it is sometimes better for a manufacturer to destroy obsolete product than allow it in to the market place where it can damage brand reputation.
    As far as recycling, in today’s modern waste disposal business this building can be easily ground up into small pieces where the metal, glass, plastic and other materials can be separated

  7. Lee Hart says:

    I bought some of those Arco M52L solar panels salvaged from the Carrizo site. They are *still* on my garage roof, working! They deliver about half of their original rated power, which is pretty good for cells that must now be 30+ years old.

    BTW, they came with no warranty other than that from the seller. Arco was exiting the PV business, so there is no way they could be harmed by their sale and reuse. It is always environmentally more responsible to reuse rather than to simply destroy.

  8. burnt panels says:

    working in the field we were kept very busy replacing defective BP panels that had faulty junction boxes that would melt and often times burn the leads and crack the glass. crappy oil company also makes crappy solar panels, who would have guessed

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