Solar Panel End of Life: What Happens to Old Panels?

There’s been a lot of good news about solar power recently, but an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week encourages solar panel owners to have a think about what happens to their solar panels when they have reached end of life.

SMH describes it as a “waste crisis” on the horizon. So what exactly will happen to your solar panels when they reach end of life or malfunction? What is Australia’s policy on solar panel waste?

Solar Panel Waste: Australia Needs to Figure it Out

In December of last year, Australia reached a record of 2 million households with rooftop solar. What will happen to all of those solar panels when they reach end of life in roughly 30 years?

Australia’s environment ministers have not determined policies concerning solar panels and how they are handled as waste.

Experts and former advisers say that a responsible end of life strategy should be of upmost importance for solar panels, and they believe proper action has not yet been taken. It is assumed bad planning and cost concerns are reasons a concrete policy is not in place for a more environmental way to dispose of solar panels.

Solar Panels Going to Landfill

Just like paint, batteries, electronics and furniture waste, solar panels are going to landfill.

Solar panels and other electronics waste in particular may contain hazardous substances. When these products end up in landfill they contribute to Earth’s pollution problem.

“Photovoltaic panels are predominantly made from glass, polymer and aluminium, but may also contain potentially hazardous materials such as lead, copper and zinc.”

– Nicole Hasham, Sydney Morning Herald

What’s the Solution?

A recycling scheme for solar panels and batteries is needed. Australia already has schemes in place for televisions and computers. Despite costs to recycle, these recycling schemes create jobs and help the environment.

There are state schemes and companies in place who are trying to keep solar panels and batteries out of landfill while the government continues to take no action:

  • The state of Victoria will be banning all electronic waste at landfills from July this year.
  • Sustainability Victoria is reporting on management options for solar panels.
  • Reclaim PV, a solar panel recycler in Australia, is encouraging bans on sending solar panels to landfill: they claim 90% of a panel can be recycled.

Other states and research bodies are focusing on this issue. See if anyone in your state is involved.

Even with these efforts, Australia still needs a nationwide scheme to deal with solar panel materials at end of life.

Read the full story on Sydney Morning Herald.

(This article was originally published on Solar Trust Centre)