Solar Waste | A Potential Threat

The burgeoning solar power business of Australia poses a great concern about solar waste.  Above  2 million solar power systems are installed across the country. More solar panels mean more solar waste.

    Usually, solar panels have a warranty of 15-20 years. As demand for solar panels grows, the market is flooded with cheap solar panels which don’t last even for 5 years. Solar waste is a fast-growing category of waste in Australia.

  PV  module recycling is being overcrowded with its demand for services. They get flooded with requests from people who are tired of taking them to landfill.

“ We are doing about 500 to 600 panels a day. Australians should be concerned about solar waste, it is an emerging issue that is coming up quickly”, said reclaim PV’s, Clive Fleming.

In fact, there are more solar panels in Australia than there are Australians. Solar waste is a fast-growing category of waste in Australia. Solar panels are considered a form of toxic, hazardous, e-waste. It is going to be a major issue in another 20 year’s time.

  A  typical crystalline silicon solar panel consists of

  •  65-75% glass
  • 10-15% aluminium for the frame
  • 10% plastic
  • 3-5% silicon

Reclaim PV collect panels from all around Australia. They strip down panels to their components and is able to recycle about 90% materials. By weight, most of a crystalline solar panel are recyclable and valuable. It can add to the economy of the country if properly recycled.

  Most of the panels contain an elastic material called ethylene-vinyl acetate. It contains lead, cadmium and chromium which are lethal and cancer-causing. Functional panels are sealed with glass and are safe. When the glass breaks those substances can leak. Extreme weather like hurricanes, rain and wind can break the glass, allowing the chemicals to go into soil and water.

To obtain Australia’s solar rebate, panels and inverters have to be chosen from the Clean energy council’s  Approved Products List.

In Nov 2017 there were 6790 models of CEC approved modules list. Now it has dropped down to 1725. CEC has improved the standards of quality. Hence quality-wise installations are much better now. But the number of solar panel installation in Australia is increasing at an alarming rate. It results in an increase in solar waste as well.

  Besides quality reasons, some solar panels are replaced for whatever reasons even if they are functioning well. That too adds to the solar waste.

  The group Environmental progress says solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants. It is high time Australia’s solar panel recycling industry became more active. For example, in NSW the Berejiklian government pledged $10 million for a new solar panel and battery recycling fund.

As the proverb goes” prevention is better than cure”. Though we cannot fully avoid the issue of solar waste, we can easily deal with early failures if we become a bit cautious during solar panel installation. It would be better to get proper advice before panel installation. The Good Solar Guide would be a great help in this regard. People have to be cautious because  Solar waste in Australia will become a pressing issue by 2050.