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While Australia’s solar industry is booming, a future waste problem is looming

Jay Dean
2 August 2019
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Without a doubt, it’s fantastic that there are now 2 million Australian homes with solar rooftops. It’s a real revolution in how we power our lives. However, what isn’t so fantastic is this could mean a potential 1500 kilotons of solar PV waste accumulating by 2050, when current solar panels are due to end their 15-/20-/25-year lifetimes.

Where they will go is an important question that needs to be answered. Currently, there is only one solar panel recycling centre in Australia, in SA, and there is not much incentive to recycle or refurbish panels. Also, there are no rules to regulate the solar industry’s waste.

No waste data.

Experts tell us that solar PV is not a big waste stream at the moment because most of the panels have only been installed in the last decade. The real problem will come in 15-25 years. But, with no data currently being collected, no management plans for the future solar waste stream are in place. What this means is that many panels could simply end up in landfill.

Solar casts a shadow.

Installers know first-hand about the amount of waste that can be generated by solar panels. One installer from the NT says he has taken failed solar panels to his local tip on about 100 occasions.

“The aluminium frames go into a skip bin and the metal can be recycled. So that just leaves the glass and the back sheet with the cells to go to landfill.”

The problem with this is some of the elements in solar panel modules can be toxic.

No rules for solar waste.

Installers know first-hand about the amount of waste that can be generated by solar panels. One installer from the NT says he has taken failed solar panels to his local tip on about 100 occasions.

“The aluminium frames go into a skip bin and the metal can be recycled. So that just leaves the glass and the back sheet with the cells to go to landfill.”

The problem with this is some of the elements in solar panel modules can be toxic.

Regulating recycling and refurbing.

With only one facility in Australia that recycles solar panels – Reclaim PV in Adelaide – there is an urgent need for companies to take responsibility for recycling and self regulate. In the future, some of the cost of recycling might also have to fall to the consumer.

Professor Rodney Stewart from the Griffith School of Engineering and the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, says that “We need the industry to actually create some authorities to self-regulate and push their members to improve their rates of refurbishment or enabling recycling of components.”

At stake is the possibility of toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater from solar waste, plus masses of discarded panels unable to be used again.

There are positive alternatives, however.

Renewables’ reputation.

With only one facility in Australia that recycles solar panels – Reclaim PV in Adelaide – there is an urgent need for companies to take responsibility for recycling and self regulate. In the future, some of the cost of recycling might also have to fall to the consumer.

Professor Rodney Stewart from the Griffith School of Engineering and the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, says that “We need the industry to actually create some authorities to self-regulate and push their members to improve their rates of refurbishment or enabling recycling of components.”

At stake is the possibility of toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater, plus masses of discarded panels unable to be used again.

Our responsible solar mission.

As a market leader, Energy Partners aims to provide exceptional products and service, and this extends to the full lifecycle, and beyond, of all of our solar products.

If you have any queries or concerns about solar, contact us for a chat, and we’ll set the record straight.

We are located at: 2/806 Beaudesert Rd, Coopers Plains, 4108, and open Monday to Friday 8:30AM-4:30PM. Just pop in, or make an appointment by calling 1300 768977.

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