Will India be Inspired by Australia’s Solar Recycling Efforts?

Highlights :

  • Dubbo Regional Council (DRC), a local government area located in New South Wales, Australia, has been selected as the pilot site for a first-of-its-kind project, where second hand (serviceable) solar panels are given a new lease on life.

  • As part of the National Recycling Week, which runs 8 – 12 November, DRC is participating in this trial to reuse solar panels, hoping that residents will one day be able to reuse solar panels in their own homes or businesses.

Dubbo Regional Council (DRC), a local government area located in New South Wales, Australia, has been selected as the pilot site for a first-of-its-kind project, where second hand (serviceable) solar panels are given a new lease on life. National Recycling Week runs 8 – 12 November this year, and DRC is encouraging residents to think of ways they can recycle in their own homes.

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While solar panels are a popular way to save energy and promote better outcomes environmentally, there are unknowns around what happens to the solar panels when they are removed and replaced.

In the last two decades, millions of solar panels have been installed, with an expected lifetime of between 25 and 30 years. That means over the coming years, a trickle of discarded panels will gradually turn into a flood, requiring effective recycling techniques to be in place soon.

Australia installed its highest ever number of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels in 2020, according to Clean Energy Regulator data analysed by energy efficiency experts from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

DRC has partnered with Blue Tribe, CSIRO, and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment’s Sustainability Advantage to pilot an innovative solution to this emerging waste problem. This project has been funded under the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Circular Solar Grants Program.

“Dubbo Regional Council has been successful in its joint application to participate in the Second Life Solar project, where we are exploring the reuse of solar panels to create solar gardens, rather than dispose of the panels into landfill. Our main role is to host the solar garden at the Whylandra Waste and Recycling Centre,” said DRC’s Manager Resource Recovery & Efficiency, John Wisniewski.

With DRC participating in this trial to reuse solar panels, it’s hoped that residents will one day be able to reuse solar panels in their own homes or businesses.

“There are more than 2.8 million small-scale solar systems installed Australia-wide, and Dubbo is the second largest installer of small-scale solar systems in NSW,” added Mr Wisniewski.

India is among the top five countries producing solar photovoltaic power and will continue to further improve its position in the future. The government has already set its sights to produce 350 GW of solar power by 2030. Currently, there are no laws that mandate safe disposal of solar energy waste unlike Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in Europe.

Solar recycling must be made a priority in India to avoid land pollution from discarded panels. A not-for-profit organisation can formulate a roadmap to pave the way for a safe end of life management using low-cost recycling equipment and ensure they are used for re-powering. About 240,000 MW of new panels can be re-produced without extracting new materials. It will result in the overall CO2 abatement of 360 billion tons in their lifetime, as per some estimates.

Consultancy Sofies India, for instance, has joined the Solar Waste Action Plan (SWAP) pilot to investigate the feasibility of recycling photovoltaic solar panels. The innovative project, funded by Netherlands-based Signify Foundation and Doen Foundation, aims to enhance solar panel recycling practices in India. It wants to boost daily capacity to at least 150 tonnes of PV panel waste by May 2022. An important SWAP milestone was setting up a pilot plant in Gummidipoondi in Tamil Nadu with a daily processing capacity of 2.5 tonnes. The site is operated by recycling firm Poseidon Solar and became fully operational in September.

About 8 million metric tons of decommissioned solar panels could accumulate globally by 2030. By 2050, that number could reach 80 million. Recycling these panels could provide a new source for materials that would otherwise need to be mined (potentially under unsafe or exploitative working conditions), making solar a more sustainable piece of the clean-energy puzzle.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.

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