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Anyone familiar with the solar industry is well aware of the advantages solar energy has for communities all across the country.
When compared to traditional sources of electricity production, solar power generation is sustainable. It boosts local economies, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and generally requires minimal maintenance over its lifetime.
Over the last two decades, Australia’s renewable solar energy business has grown at an astronomical speed. Over 2 million Photovoltaic systems were installed on household roofs.
However, many people in the industry are unaware of the benefits and downsides of solar modules past the end of their operational lifetime.
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Solar panel systems are celebrated for their ability to provide a clean and renewable energy source. Still, the growing industry is producing an equally growing waste disposal concern that is not often tackled.
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. This weight is equivalent to the weight of 19 Sydney Harbour Bridges.
What Is A Solar Panel?
A solar panel is composed of an arrangement of cells made from thin layers of silicon crystals. These cells are sandwiched between two layers of aluminum and glass. The materials making up the cells create an electrical current when subject to sunlight energy.
To work efficiently, these cells need very pure silicon. The crystal-chemical structure this material creates is optimal for the flow of electrons.
Once sunlight reaches the silicon atoms, electrons are released. This causes a spark similar to the one created when metallic utensils are microwaved.
These electrons are transported across the cell by particles of metal impurities added to the silicon. Next, electrical currents are transferred by copper cables.
Usually, silicon is an easy material to recycle, but as metals such as cadmium are added to improve the solar panel efficiency, solar panels become extremely difficult to recycle due to the hazardous metals in the structure. 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 the type of the panels. Several studies show that solar panels might even have a maximum of 30 years before requiring disassembly.
Within the first decade of operation, the performance rate of your device drops by an estimated 6 to 10%. This happens at a greater rate in the years that follow. Solar panels and systems can be recycled at any point during their lifespan.
Can Solar Panels Be Recycled?
Simply put, the primary components of silicon solar cells which are glass, plastics, and metal are all commonly recyclable.
However, the component separation process is time-consuming and involves advanced technology.
The process consists of taking apart the aluminum frame, which is fully recyclable. Then, the glass is removed and heated to 500 degrees Celsius to melt all remaining plastic components.
Lastly, the silicon particles are etched away, which due to the metal impurities included are only 85% reusable.
How can I get my solar panel recycled?
Common options for solar panel recycling involve the collection of the panels at general-purpose glass recycling centers, removing and separating the metal framing and glass sections, but the throwing away or incinerating the other pieces.
Luckily, a few companies are already aiming to make solar panel recycling comprehensive and widespread. For battery recycling, larger batteries can be sent to Envirostream, with a charge on company pick up and transportation.
A professional electrician should remove the cells, and a dangerous goods vehicle needs to be arranged to transport the cells. Interstate transfers need documentation, and some installations might require reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency when 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 solar panel 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.
Even though Australia has a limited number of recycling centers, 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 center, 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 Solar Panel Be Recycled In Australia?
There are currently only two Australian companies providing Photovoltaic recycling, as full and proper recycling of panels can incur a huge cost.
PVIndustries, Reclaim PV, and Ecoactive all provide pickup options in most areas 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.
Except for 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 waste disposal center.
Who Is Responsible For Recycling Solar Panels?
Manufacturers and industry leaders are spearheading the initiative to expand photovoltaic companies’ 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 consolidating services from several manufacturers. Private firms are also improving and developing their recycling efforts on a global scale.
The main challenge for recycling companies is that the amount of disposed of solar panels is still insufficient to make full recycling financially feasible.
This challenge is also accompanied by the problem of collecting and transporting the panels from a wide geographical area, causing a logistical barrier due to the spread and size of the solar panels.
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