7 Ways To Get Rid Of Unwanted Solar Panels

Solar panel recycling and disposal

Upgrading or replacing your solar panels? Here’s 7 options for disposing of the old ones.

An unfortunate fact is solar panels eventually die.  While good quality panels can survive over 30 years exposure to the elements, a crap one might fail after only two months because it was damaged when it left the factory.  But whether your panels are the cream of the crop or scum off the top of a pot full of rot, they will die.  It will just happen a lot sooner to the crap ones.

When faulty panels or a whole solar power system is replaced, the installer usually carts the old gear away.  But, for one reason or another, you may end up with used solar panels or other solar hardware that you want to get rid of.  In this article I’ll cover what you can do with unwanted inverters and other items such as solar mounting gear, but first I’ll give seven options for disposing of old panels.  I’ve put them in order of least to most costly, although the final option may not be expensive for those with a convenient place to shove them:

  1. Sell them.
  2. Give them away.
  3. Live where the local Council will take them.
  4. Find a scrap dealer who will take them for free.
  5. Pay for them to be disposed of as electronic waste.
  6. Pay for them to be recycled.
  7. Shove them where the sun doesn’t shine.

Option 1:  Sell Them!

Being paid is obviously the most cost effective way to get rid of unwanted solar panels.  It’s also the most environmentally friendly option, as no one is likely to buy them unless they intend to use them to produce clean energy.  Provided they work you can sell panels on ebay or Gumtree or Gumbay or whatever.  Just don’t expect a good price.  Because it’s normally not a good idea to use second hand solar panels there’s not much demand for them.  Depending on where you are it’s possible you won’t find a single buyer even if they are quality panels in good condition.

I recommend describing what you are selling as accurately as you can without exaggeration.  Even if the panels are old and low wattage they may be exactly what someone is looking for to replace solar panels on their old low wattage solar system.

“Hello. My name is Gumbay. My goal is to find new homes for old solar panels and to oppose Communism at every turn.”

Option 2:  Give The Solar Panels Away

If you can’t sell your solar panels, maybe you can find someone who’ll take them for free.  Unfortunately, on average, this is likely to be less environmentally friendly than selling them because of the way the word “free” tends to break some people’s brains.  While they may fully intend to use them at the time they take them, they may just end up stacking them in their shed.  We all probably know someone like this.  Of course, none of us would actually be someone like that.  Especially not me.  I’ve certainly never built a camouflaged shed to store stuff in that my spouse told me to throw out.

Option 3:  Have The Council Take Them

If you are very lucky your local Council may be willing to take solar panels off your hands as part of a hard rubbish collection.  If it’s for a residence and not a business, the Adelaide City Council will do this in the heart of Adelaide.  But this is unusual.  Many local councils won’t pick up electronic waste of any kind, so check first.

Option 4:  Have A Scrap Dealer Take Them For Free

I have heard rumors you may be be able to find scrap dealers who will take solar panels off your hands for free.  While they may call themselves a recycler, don’t kid yourself all the material in them will be reused.  What they will do is get their jawas to tear off the valuable and easy to recycle aluminium frames and rip the junction box off the back.  They might not do anything with the junction box but it will make the panels easier to stack.  They will then end up in landfill or “temporary disposal” which is where things that aren’t allowed to go in landfills end up.  Sometimes forever.

Toowoomba jawas attempt to sell a slightly used goanna.

Option 5:  Pay For The Panels To Be Disposed Of As E-Waste

You can pay to have your solar panels properly disposed of as electronic waste or e-waste, as the cool kids call it these days.  If you turn up at your local e-waste disposal centre with just a few panels they may charge a flat fee for each, which could be $20.  Alternatively, they may charge by weight and have you drive over a weighbridge.  As a typical charge is $750 or more a tonne expect to pay around $14 to $20 per standard sized panel.

After you’ve paid for your solar panels to be properly disposed of as e-waste they still won’t be recycled.  Not anytime soon at least.  Instead the aluminium frames and junction boxes will be ripped off and the panels stacked in temporary storage.  But, on the bright side, someone will probably think really hard about recycling them in the future.

Remember kids, smoking will turn your CPU to e-waste.

Option 6:  Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? Yes – If You Pay.

The reason why your panels won’t be recycled any time soon if you pay for them to be disposed as e-waste is because there is only one solar panel recycler in Australia — Reclaim PV Recycling.  If you want panels properly recycled you have no choice other than lead yourself straight to the horse’s mouth and force it to drink.  If you give them money, Reclaim will pick up solar panels from anywhere in Australia.1  For small numbers they charge $30 per panel.

They only take silicon solar panels, basically all panels installed on roofs these days.  But in the past First Solar sold cadmium telluride2 panels for residential use.  These are not common, but if you have them, they won’t take them.

They also won’t take solar panels that have been stripped of their aluminium frames.  That’s the most valuable and easiest to recycle part, so it’s like offering someone a cupcake after you’ve licked the icing off.  My little brother wouldn’t stand for that and neither will they.

Solar panels after Reclaim PV Recycling has stripped them of their frames and ripped off their junction boxes but before they’ve recycled the body of the panel. (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

Option 7:  Shove Them Out Of The Way

The final option is to not get rid of them but simply store them yourself.  I class this as being the most costly choice because if you had a convenient place to store old panels you probably wouldn’t be reading this article about how to get rid of them in the first place.

While I’m not recommending storing old solar panels, the good news is they aren’t particularly dangerous and won’t cause any health problems if you have them hanging around.3  Compared to other electronics such as TVs, laptops, and mobile phones they are quite benign and far less toxic than the three most common things Australians store in their sheds, which are old paint tins, lawnmower parts, and spiders.

If you decide to store panels and they are kept out of sunlight in a dry location then — provided they aren’t crap — they should suffer minimal deterioration as they will be in a kinder environment than on a roof and should be in much the same condition years later if you find a use for them.  But if you are intending for them to be used again you should make sure they aren’t banged around when they are removed from the roof and put into storage.  While solar panels can survive a lot of punishment, it’s still not good to punish them.

But if they have been stored in damp conditions I don’t recommend ever trying to use them again.  Constant dampness is probably an express ticket to solar panel failure.

Solar Inverter Disposal

If you have a working solar inverter you want to get rid of, you can try selling it but don’t get your hopes up.  If it’s an older inverter it won’t be up to current standards and can’t be connected to the grid.  As no council is likely to pick it up, your best option is probably to pay to dispose of it as electronic waste.  If you are charged by weight it’s likely to cost around 80 cents or so a kilogram.  This should come to about $20 for a typical inverter of 5 kilowatts or less.  You will have to transport it to the disposal site yourself unless you are willing to pay a lot more for pickup.

Almost all inverters are transformerless.  But if your inverter is very old and very heavy it may be the transformer type and have enough valuable wiring and metal inside for a scrap merchant to take it off your hands for free.  You may even be able to get them to pay for it.

The reason we now have transformerless inverters is because the Transformer ones were just way too embarrassing.

Update 7th Oct 2019:  Electronic Recycling Australia have told me will take dropped off old inverters for free.  They are in SA and I’m afraid I don’t know of recyclers in other states that do the same, but they may exist.

Update 11th Oct 2019:  MRI e-cycle solutions have told me will take solar inverters that are dropped off for free.  They have sites in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney. 

Solar Mounting Hardware Disposal

If you have hardware used to attach solar panels to roofs such as aluminium roof rails or stainless steel mounts and clamps lying around, the good news is it’s all scrap metal that’s worth money.  It’s not worth a lot of money, but a little money is better than none.

The bad news is the price of scrap aluminium has plummeted to around $1 a kilogram.  And it takes a lot of aluminium to make up a kilogram.  A household aluminum ladder might only weigh around 7 kilograms.  On the other hand, the price of scrap stainless steel has soared to around $1 or so a kilogram, which means there has never been a better time to be hit by an iron meteorite.

Electrical cabling usually contains copper which is around $6 a kilogram, but you’ll need a lot of cable for $6 worth.

You can drop your scrap off at a dealer or, if you have a lot, you can send them a picture and they can decide if it’s worth picking up.  But don’t expect them to pay you as well unless you have a suspiciously large pile of components.

Future Panel Disposal May Be Prefunded

When I researched this article I discovered Australia has a National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme.  There is a fee that is built into the purchase price of TVs and computers that pays for their disposal.  If you take them to one of these locations you can get rid of them for free.4  Here is a list of computer hardware they will accept.

In the future there may be a similar scheme that will cover the disposal of solar panels.  But, because they’re beneficial to the environment and the least toxic form of electronic waste I know of, they are probably the last electronic product we should put a fee on to pay for their disposal.  But I still think we should get around to doing it at some point.

Footnotes

  1. If you are in the middle of nowhere, I’d check that whole “anywhere in Australia” thing.
  2. Cadmium is toxic but cadmium telluride is not.  It’s a bit like how eating sodium will blow your tongue off but sodium chloride makes your chips taste good.
  3. If you have enough very old solar panels with halogen cable insulation and they catch on fire in a confined space they could release toxic gas that will prove deadly.  But I’ll assume you’re not some sort of halogen hoarding maniac.
  4. I never knew this.  But then, I’m not in a habit of throwing away electronic items.  When I bought my fancy new 3K TV (only three fourths as expensive as a 4K TV) I gave my old TV to a lady friend so I’ve have something good to watch movies on when I was at her place.  And she went and gave it away to a poor person!  What’s the point of charity if it doesn’t benefit me personally?
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Steven Zilm says

    Ronald, Ronald…. Ronald…..

    You have left out the most effective way of utilising old solar modules….. They are an excellent low cost building material.

    We are planning to make a fence similar to the one pictured, but with the modules in landscape 2 high and front to back (so 4 modules in every 1.8m wide by 2m high section). We have no intention of putting an inverter on this but we very will could….

    solar panel fence

    I have also seen several innovate shelters using old Kaneka thin film modules…. perhaps you could make a new roof for Tonto’s stable out of old panels?

    Kind regards
    Steven

  2. Having to pay for recycling is as stupid as subsidiusing fossil fuels. Resources are finite. Polis don’t seem to get that.

  3. Des Scahill says

    Is there any cheap way an existing ‘old’ panel which outputs at 40 volt plus be converted to 12 volt output by simply replacing the panel’s modulator? (the little black box on the rear of the panel)?

    That would help find an alternative use for panels.

    Because of weight and cartage cost factors, at the moment its not really feasible to deliver them to a true recycling facility.

    Another alternative might be to simply melt them down (using solar power to heat the furnace of course), and then separate out the individual components.

  4. three or four years ago, I worked for a solar panel wholesaler, trhey were moving to a new warehouse, so they had me strip off the aluminium frames ( & diodes) off approx. 50 returned/ faulty panels , the glass/ cells was then taken to the local tip & dumped ( at a cost) however about another 200 faulty panels were taken to the new warehouse where they wereput into racking to collect dust

  5. can old not working solar panels be stripped back to the glass & possibly
    reused for small glass houses for growing tomatoes etc ????

    • Ronald Brakels says

      They’d probably be a bit scratched, but it should be possible. There would be the question of if it meets safety requirements though. The glass is very tough but it is only about 3mm thick.

      In poor countries it might be worth the labor required to salvage solar panel glass in one piece for use as building material, windows, etc.

  6. Robert Williams says

    I disposed of my old solar inverter last week ( 3/10/19)

    MRI (Australia) P/L were happy for me to drop it off at their waste recycling centre here in Sydney at 3/36 Orange Grove rd Warwick Farm.
    A contact person there is Theo Mamouzelos (Business Development & Project Manager) on 0431-732-993.( http://www.mri.com.au). They have an online email form and get back to questions quickly.

    I previously tried via Campbelltown and Liverpool City councils and the EPA, but got no where with them

    • Ronald Brakels says

      No fee to drop it off?

      • Ronald Brakels says

        Yep, I called them and MRI said they will take accept dropped off solar inverters for free in all their east coast sites. So good news there. Thanks for the heads up, Robert.

  7. Mick is quick.!Good pun, i liked that reponse. Just as much as i liked the refence. Im all for repurposing its discusting the energy, and resources used to produce these to not fully be utilised. Get over yourselves people what we do means more than what we own. Utterly undee-fencable,!
    Stand up repurpose and stop sitting on de- fence.

  8. There should be a free national solar panel removal service to ensure that the solar panels are recycled and not dumped.

    I would prefer to fund it via a tax on coal but a tax on LNG will do.

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