Everyone who specializes in the solar industry is well aware of the advantages solar energy has for communities all across the country.
When compared to traditional choices available for electricity production, sustainable, solar power boosts local economies, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and generally requires minimal maintenance over the lifetime of the investment.
Over the last two decades, Australia’s renewable solar energy business has developed at an astronomical speed, with more than 2 million Photovoltaic systems installed on household roofs.
Yet, many people in the industry are unaware of the benefits and downsides of solar modules that have reached the end of their operational lifetime.
While Photovoltaic solar panel systems are celebrated for their ability to provide a renewable energy resource, there is a growing waste disposal concern that is not discussed nearly as often.
📣Australia expects 100,000 tons of waste PV modules by 2035
Researchers say Australia will have almost 1 million tonnes of solar panel waste by 2047 — the weight equivalent to the weight of 19 Sydney Harbour Bridges.
What is a solar panel?
A solar panel is composed of cells, which are thin layers of silicon crystals. A solar panel’s cells are placed between two layers of aluminium and glass.
They create energy-producing elements that transform sunlight into electrical energy when paired.
To work efficiently, the cells need very pure silicon since the crystal structure it creates is optimal for allowing electrons to flow.
Once sunlight reaches silicon atoms, electrons are released, causing a spark analogous to the one that occurs when metallic utensils are microwaved.
These electrons are transported across the cell by particles of metal impurities added to the silicon, and electrical currents are delivered forth by copper cables.
Usually, silicon is an easy material to recycle, but since in order to improve the solar panel efficiency metal, such as cadmium, is added, solar panels become exceedingly difficult to recycle, almost impossible due to the hazardous metals in the structure.
In fact, it is typically more expensive to recycle a solar panel than it is to construct one.
When do solar panels die?
Most solar panels have an average life span of 20 to 25 years, depending on what type of solar panels you own.
Your device’s performance rate will drop by 6% to 10% in the first decade of use, and somewhat more in the years after that. Solar panels and photovoltaic technology can be recycled at any point in their lifespan.
Solar panels have a maximum of 30-year life expectancy before they need to be disassembled, according to several studies.
Image: PV Cycle
Can solar panels be recycled?
Well, to put it simply, glass, plastics, and metal that are the primary components of silicon solar cells, all are commonly recyclable.
Despite the modules’ sustainability, the component separation process is time-consuming and involves advanced technology.
It includes a few steps in the process of successful and convenient solar module recycling.
It consists of separating the aluminium frame, which is fully recyclable, removing the glass, heating the system to 500 degrees Celsius to melt remaining plastic components, and then etching away the silicon particles, which due to the metal parts included are only 85% reusable.
How can I get my solar panel recycled?
What are the alternatives for recycling obsolete solar panels right now? Generally, solar panels have been collected at general-purpose glass recycling centres, where the metal framing and glass sections are saved but the other pieces are thrown away or incinerated.
Luckily, a few companies are already attempting to make solar panel recycling both comprehensive and widespread.
One could send larger batteries to Envirostream for recycling but will be charged extra for transportation or must handle it oneself.
A professional electrician will be required to remove the cells, and a dangerous goods vehicle will be necessary to transport those.
Interstate transfers will also need to be documented, and some installations could require reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency when they are placed or relocated.
How easy and expensive is it to recycle solar panels?
Apart from several other countries, Australia does not place a levy on producers for end-of-life recycling.
This implies that waste costs are covered by the contractor if an update is made, or by the homeowner if they decide to handle recycling themselves.
Despite the fact that Australia has a limited number of recycling centres, new regulations and possibilities in the industry are quickly increasing the array of choices accessible.
The NSW government has just launched a request for applications of interest for a $10 million funding to finance pilot projects that will improve the collecting, reusing, and recycling of solar panels and battery storage technologies.
Whenever you bring just a few solar cells to your local e-waste recycling centre, they might charge a fixed price of $20 per panel.
However, they can charge you by the weight of your vehicle and require you to pass over a weighbridge. Expect to pay between $14 and $20 per normal-sized panel, based on a tonne charge of $750 or higher.
Can the solar panel be recycled in Australia?
Image: Renew Economy
Just two Australian companies currently provide Photovoltaic recycling, and doing it the correct way will cost you a fortune.
PVIndustries, Reclaim PV, and Ecoactive all provide pickup options in most parts of Australia, and they are constantly expanding their collecting and recycling abilities.
If Photovoltaic recycling is not currently available in your location, you can also arrange e-waste disposal pick-up.
With the exception of Victoria, which reportedly introduced laws forbidding the disposal of e-waste, most regions provide e-waste disposal at some fee.
To learn more about rates and options, contact your local garbage disposal centre.
Who is responsible for recycling solar panels?
The commercial industry is increasingly spearheading the movement to expand the photovoltaic company’s overall recycling abilities.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, in particular, offers a nationwide PV recycling strategy that aims to reduce the cost of recycling panels by combining services from several manufacturers.
Private firms are also increasing their recycling efforts on a global scale.
The largest challenge for recycling companies is that the amount of wasted solar panels is still insufficient to make complete recycling financially feasible, accompanied by the problem that collecting and transporting the panels is logistically complex and costly due to their size.