CIRCUSOL Circular business models for the solar power industry

As part of the EU-H2020 CIRCUSOL project, BFH is working with European partners to develop circular business models for the solar industry. The aim is to make the industry more sustainable and competitive through an innovative approach to resources.


  • Lead school(s) School of Engineering and Computer Science
  • Institute Institute for Data Applications and Security IDAS
  • Research unit Institute Innovation & Strategic Entrepreneurship
  • Funding organisation Horizon 2020 – European Union Grant agreement no. 776680
  • Duration (planned) 01.01.2018 - 31.12.2022
  • Project management Prof. Dr. Stefan Grösser
  • Head of project Prof. Dr. Stefan Grösser
  • Project staff Dr. Maria Franco Mosquera
    Tim Luginbühl
    Patrik Marti
    Adrian Stettler
    Roger Nyffenegger
    Thomas Blaser
    Boukhatmi Ässia
  • Partner Lund University
    Bern University of Applied Sciences
    VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research)
    IMEC (Interuniversitair micro-electronica centrum)
    SNAM (Société Nouvelle d'Affinage des Metaux)
    CEA (Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives)
    PV cycle
    BKW AG (Bernische Kraftwerke AG)
    Daidalos Peutz
    ZABALA Innovation Consulting
    Loser Chemie
  • Keywords Solar panels, Circular economy, Horizon 2020

Starting Point

Photovoltaics (PV) – the conversion of sunlight into electricity – is becoming increasingly important and already meets 4% of European power supply demand. Although this type of energy is eco-friendly in and of itself, it does have a problem: more and more end-of-life solar panel components are ending up in the refuse. This creates environmental pollution and represents a waste of resources. Both aspects are increasingly becoming a financial as well as an image problem for the solar industry.


As part of the European Union’s “Horizon 2020” research programme, the CIRCUSOL project was looking at how the solar energy industry can improve its resource efficiency and contribute more to a climate-friendly energy future. The project brought together companies from the energy industry as well as academic centres and universities from Belgium, France, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden.

CIRCUSOL’s main objective was to create circular business solutions for the solar energy sector. Here, product owners generate revenues through the performance or functionality of the product over its entire lifecycle. They don’t simply manufacture and sell products but manage them as service providers from production through to the recycling stage. This gives them a strong vested interest in extending the product’s lifecycle and making it easier to recycle the raw materials used in it.


To foster sustainable circular business models, the European partners participating in the CIRCUSOL project were focusing on various areas. This included the development of PV modules that are easier to repair or recycle than those currently available on the market. New energy storage solutions were also being targeted. One example here was to improve the technology for repairing defective batteries. The researchers also identified significant potential for a more efficient use of resources in the used batteries of electric cars.

BFH was involved in various CIRCUSOL sub-projects. It was creating databases, producing ecosystem analyses and participating in pilot tests being conducted by the project partner BKW in the canton of Bern. Students were also able to benefit from CIRCUSOL through project theses covering sub-aspects.


In order to simplify the exchange of information within the solar power industry and thereby make the value chains more efficient and sustainable, the researchers at BFH developed the prototype of a database. Thanks to this database, it should be possible in the future for stakeholders within the value chain to find PV modules again and to obtain information quickly and easily about their physical condition and circularity potential. PV modules should be registered right at the beginning of their value chain and then. The prototype of this database will be further developed in a next step and subsequently be made available to stakeholders in the solar power industry. A Swiss follow-up project is already in the planning stages.

However, the successful development and implementation of a circular business model for the solar power industry requires more than just information on the condition of the products. Instead, many distinct factors must be considered, such as technical, financial, market, environmental and regulatory factors. The researchers at BFH simulate the interaction of these factors in a so-called system dynamics model in order to better understand the complex interactions of the various influences. The modelling results show that rising electricity prices are the strongest driver of growing demand for PV systems. However, the model predicts that, due to falling system prices, the market share of electricity production with PV systems will grow even if electricity prices remain constant. The simulations also show that reused PV modules are currently in difficulty, since secondary use is only financially attractive if the costs of electricity production are lower or at most the same as with new PV modules. That is currently not the case.


Based on the knowledge gained in the project, the CIRCUSOL project partners developed recommendations and strategies that can promote the establishment of circular business models for the solar power industry. This includes reducing premature defects caused by maintenance, adapting the design of PV modules so that raw materials can be recovered more easily, and developing processes that make it easy to collect and share data.