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Solar waste startup develops recycling solution

An Australian start up is aiming to stop solar waste from entering landfill by setting up the first solar panel recycling facility in New South Wales. Waste generated from the solar industry is growing as older systems are reaching their end of life and owners are replacing these with new, more powerful systems.

PV Industries is work closely with UNSW in a project being led by the University which includes the company and other solar industry stakeholders to develop local recycling technologies as well as increasing the value of the materials recovered from solar panels.

Paradoxically, it is the growth in investment into solar panels which is also causing an increase in waste, and according to PV Industries co-founder James Petesic, little thought has been given to how waste from renewable technologies should be managed and processed.

Damage to the panels are caused are often caused by handling during solar panel installation and transportation. Their end of life is also being accelerated by factors such as severe weather events like hailstorms, faults during use and low-quality panels that entered the market are no longer fit for purpose. However, the greatest factors driving an increase in solar waste are rapid advancements in technology combined with government rebates.

“Currently nearly all solar panels are going to landfill in NSW and across Australia, so our goal is to provide a sustainable long-term solution to stop this from happening,” Petesic said.

“Not many people know what happens to their solar panels once they reach their end of life, so we are providing the industry with a sustainable solution, allowing individuals to make informed and environmentally conscious decisions.”

13 million panels in NSW
Since 2007, there have been over 13 million solar panels installed in NSW alone with a total combined capacity of more than 3,150 Megawatts. This capacity is almost 10 per cent greater than Eraring Power Station, NSW’s largest coal fired power station.

Petesic said that waste generated from the solar industry is growing as older systems are reaching their end of life and owners are replacing these with new, more powerful systems.
He said that there was also a common misconception that solar panels will last 20 to 25 years, however Petesic is seeing panels coming off roofs after only 10 years and even earlier in certain circumstances.

PV Industries COO, Timothy Dawson, added “Often an entire system will need to be replaced because one solar panel stops working, however, if that solar panel can be replaced with a functional second-hand one of the same make and model, we can extend the life of the system as a whole.”

Certified testing process
“This is one reason we look forward to working with the University of New South Wales (UNSW), to help develop a certified testing process for replacement solar panels and the explore markets for the resale of second-hand solar panels.”

UNSW’s School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering, Researcher Dr Richard Corkish said “Together, we hope to deliver holistic, innovative and cost-reducing recycling solutions for the Australian market.”

According to Petesic, apart from the environmental benefits of recycling solar panels, there are also economic gains such as job creation and the value of recovered materials. All panels will be processed in Australia and the company is working to keep as much of the recovered material and components onshore. These can be reused in local manufacturing, effectively closing the loop for a fully circular economy.