Towards Australian Standards For Second-Hand Solar Panels

Second-hand solar panels in Australia

Two Australian organisations are collaborating on developing standards and certification to support a local second-hand solar panel market.

Good quality solar panels will crank clean power for decades. When systems are upgraded, the modules being replaced may have years of service life left in them. But many unwanted panels end up in landfill or are diverted and stockpiled for recycling.

Recycling services are picking up in Australia, but usually this involves breaking down the panels for material recovery rather than re-use either here or overseas.

Reclaim PV Recycling and the Circular PV Alliance (CPVA) are teaming up to help change this. The pair have signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning working together to develop standards and testing procedures to support the reuse and resale of solar panels.

“As there is no legislation in place in Australia to govern the reuse of panels, we believe this agreement is the first step in establishing a second-hand PV market in Australia with the appropriate certification to keep the industry to a high standard when it comes to the testing and verification of panels for reuse,” said Reclaim PV Director, Clive Fleming.

While some pre-loved modules are already heading overseas, there are potential issues here as well. Reclaim’s testing has indicated a significant percentage of these panels may have electricity leakage issues that pose a danger to installers and users in overseas markets.

But the potential for module reuse is pretty high. Testing of around 1,450 solar panels at Queensland’s Rockhampton Council’s module collection site revealed more than 31% could be considered for reuse instead being broken down for materials recovery.

Will Australians Buy Second-Hand Panels?

“CPVA is working to enable a robust commercial market for reused solar panels as an attractive option for consumers looking to install solar,” said Co-founder of CPVA, Megan Jones. “We are a not-for-profit and want to see everyone succeed as we move to more circular business practices in solar.”

While certification would boost consumer trust around the performance, safety and quality of reused panels, how many takers there will be remains to be seen.

The goal of selling more second-hand solar panels locally rather than just dumping most of them overseas is admirable, but new modules are pretty cheap these days. I bought my first panel back in 2008 – a 100 watt module costing $1,000. Looking at the SolarQuotes solar panel comparison table, a decent quality 370 watt solar panel can cost less than $300 nowadays. And when installed as part of a system, Australia’s solar rebate knocks that down further.

Still, whether certified second-hand solar panels are sold here or elsewhere, there could be many winners from this.

The Reclaim PV/CPVA collaboration isn’t the only initiative exploring the potential for a second-hand solar market. For example, just recently Energy Consumers Australia provided a grant to the University of Queensland to investigate potential customers for and barriers to reusing, repurposing, and recycling panels.

Solar Panel Recycling Deadline Looms

On a related note, a deadline for the solar industry concerning solar panel recycling in Australia is looming. Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley put the industry on notice in June last year that an industry-led nationwide scheme design for dealing with this waste must finalised by June 2022.

The big stick approach was curious given the Morrison Government had reportedly previously walked away from efforts within the sector to work with the Government to come up with such a plan.

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.

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