Recycling and Reusing Solar Panels by Chris Barfoot

Two 8 year old 250w panels in storage

Excerpt from his paper Planning the Transition: a renewable based energy transition for the Latrobe Valley*

Solar panels are designed to last for 25 years however, it is becoming more common that businesses will replace them after ten years. This is increasing the rate at which waste panels enter the market.

Solving this issue is largely political. Firstly, the Small-scale Technology Certificates (STC’s) are issued to the location where the panels were installed for the duration of time that remained at the time of installation. For example, if a panel was installed in 2010 it would have received STC’s for a twenty-year period. If they are then scrapped before this time is up, the greenhouse savings are never realised.

As such, I would propose that the STCs should be assigned to the panel and not the location. This would mean that one of these second-hand panels could still receive ten years of STCs and that the early scrapping of the installation would require repayment of the STCs that were not delivered. Fundamentally this would allow for a free installation. This change would need to be implemented by the Clean Energy Regulator(CER).

The second issue that occurs relates to the Clean Energy Council (CEC). The CEC is responsible for the testing and authorising of new solar panels to their approved list. For this, they receive an annual payment. This list is used by a number of bodies to ensure that the panels to be installed are safe. However, once a panel is obsolete or discontinued the manufacturer ceases the annual payment and the item is removed from the approved list. Thus, almost all second-hand panels will not be shown as being fit to install.

I propose that the CEC should maintain an obsolete list showing panels that have been tested as fit to use but are no longer current. This should also show any new restrictions introduced e.g. for those without a current fire rating – only available for use in solar farms, off-grid or on a non-habitable structure.

This would make the approval of used systems much simpler and cheaper. This could also be used to provide solar cheaper to a large range of social housing. Recycling is being investigated by a number of groups but at this time, it generally consists of recovery of the aluminium frames.

*Chris Barfoot is a retired Latrobe Valley engineer. First published by the Community Power Hub Latrobe Valley and republished with permission. The full paper is here.