Unwanted Australian Solar Panels Powering Communities In Africa

Second-hand solar panels from Australia in Africa

Pre-loved solar panels from Australia that may have otherwise ended up in landfill are generating clean electricity in African villages.

Solar installation firm Venergy Australia says much of its work these days involves upgrading solar power systems, which left the company with a challenge – how to deal with the old panels being replaced.

“Although these panels have been on houses for many years and played their part in Australia’s transition to renewable energy, they were still in great working condition and had many more years left to generate power,” said Venergy Australia CEO Matthew Wilkins.

Instead of sending these panels to landfill or warehousing them for recycling, Venergy has been shipping containers of modules to rural areas in West Africa. The second-hand panels power essential appliances and provide light to communities without mains grid electricity access.

Energy Poverty In West Africa

According to the World Bank, West Africa has one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world – limited to around 42% of the total population, and just 8% of rural residents.

“In West and Central Africa, only three countries are on track to give every one of their people access to electricity by 2030,” says Riccardo Puliti, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank. “At this slow pace, 263 million people in the region will be left without electricity in ten years.”

Households without access to electricity are often spending a big chunk of their income on fuel for generators and kerosene for lighting. This isn’t just expensive, but polluting and dangerous; with kerosene lamps starting fires and emissions contributing to respiratory ailments.

Venergy’s initiative is a fantastic effort and more (solar) power to them for it.

The good news is Venergy isn’t the only Australian solar installer doing this sort of thing. For example, we mentioned last year that Solahart Hervey Bay in Queensland partnered with non-profit Alight Project to send unwanted panels to Nigeria. Under that arrangement, enough are sold to cover the cost of shipping, with the remainder donated to disadvantaged communities.

Reusing Solar Panels In Australia

Generally speaking, solar panels are very affordable in Australia1. SolarQuotes’ solar panel comparison table shows some good quality 400W panels can be purchased for approximately $240 a pop – that’s retail, and inclusive of GST. Just as an indicator of how far prices have dropped over the years, the first panel I purchased in 2008 was 100 Watts capacity and cost a thousand dollars.

Given comparatively cheap panels here and some of the uncertainty around second-hand gear, there hasn’t been much of a market locally for pre-loved solar kit. But that could change, with standards to support a second-hand solar market in Australia currently being developed.

There have already been some formal pilot projects for second-life solar in Australia, including an 8kW system recently installed on the rooftop of a Dubbo Regional Council building.

Footnotes

  1. “Affordable” is a relative thing – average household income in Australia is much, much higher than in West Africa. In some countries, the idea of sending unwanted still-functioning solar panels to landfill would be unthinkable.
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Jack Gilding says

    Laudable intentions and great projects. But has anyone checked that this makes more sense (economically or environmentally) than buying new panels in Africa and recycling, reusing, or even storing the second hand panels in Australia.

    After extensive research on the best thing to do with unwanted secondhand panels in Tasmania I have reluctantly formed the opinion that aside for a little bit of low voltage DIY, the best thing to do with unwanted panels is probably to send them to the tip shop where they will strip off the aluminium and recycle or dump the rest.

    As it happens I had just read “Tossing Old Solar Panels Into Landfill Is Greener Than Recycling Them” by Ronald Brakels https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/recycling-solar-panel-waste/ before reading this current post.

    • Darren Wilson says

      I recently had to pay $2600 to PV Reclaim in SEQ for 15kw of 190w panels as the only way I could get the panels recycled. Metal recyclers on Gold Coast wouldn’t pay for them or take them to dismantle, Council recycling area at resource recovery did not want and said just put them in the landfill. THEN later a local said they would pay for the panels to send to Africa. So just upgraded my home system and replaced 19 x 250w panels and was paid $190 so they can be reused. Win / Win. Landfill is not the solution. Contact me by email for contact to take your 2nd hand panels.

  2. Worth mentioning that other smaller solar installers are doing this too. Charlie Sparks – who I found through this fine website – did the same thing with my old 2.5kW system. Would highly recommend to anyone in his service area of Sydney.

  3. I installed a battery and wanted additional capacity, the quote to add more panels or just take off the 2yo panels and put new ones up was the same so I decided it’s better to get the new panels and try to re-use the old setup (complete with racking, grid inverter) somehow for a little side project sometime or sell second hand. Well, the panels were stored leaning against the side of the shed for another 2 years and finally decided to list on Gumtree – $500 for the lot. It sold the same day and the kit will go to Africa.

    So don’t chuck the panels – list them on gumtree. They will be doing good in Africa. Had I known this I would have just donated them.

Speak Your Mind

Please keep the SolarQuotes blog constructive and useful with these 5 rules:

1. Real names are preferred - you should be happy to put your name to your comments.
2. Put down your weapons.
3. Assume positive intention.
4. If you are in the solar industry - try to get to the truth, not the sale.
5. Please stay on topic.

Please solve: 30 + 3 

Get the latest solar, battery and EV charger news straight to your inbox every Tuesday