Sussan Ley Puts Australia’s Solar Panel Industry “On Notice”

Solar panel recycling - Sussan Ley

In an address to the National Press Club yesterday, Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley issued a warning to the solar panel industry regarding solar panel recycling.

In a wide-ranging speech that included touching on her punk rocker background for some reason, Minister Ley threw down the gauntlet on the issue of recycling solar panels; putting the industry on notice with clear timelines for action.

“The uptake of millions of solar panels across the country from roof tops to solar farms has been vital from an emissions perspective but the explosion of retailers and importers in the area, and the lack of an industry wide approach to collection and recycling, means that it also looms as a landfill nightmare,” stated Minister Ley.

And that was it – job done. Industry, over to you.

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UPDATE June 24: On Tuesday, Minister Ley implemented a deadline for a finalised, industry-led nationwide scheme design.
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Solar Panel Recycling In Australia

Good quality solar panels can be expected to last decades, but not all panels installed in Australia have been of good quality. There’s also been an issue of still-functioning modules winding up in landfill as the result of solar system upgrades. The nature of Australia’s “solar rebate” is partly to blame for this as you can get the subsidy for each new system installed; making getting the latest and greatest in PV tech more attractive.

While there is movement at the station on solar panel recycling in Australia, it’s still very sluggish.

It’s been good to see local government starting to get on board. Last week we mentioned Lithgow City Council’s solar panel recycling service, which has just kicked off. It’s not clear where those panels are winding up for processing.

Elsewhere, there’s a proposed solar panel “upcycling” facility near Kilmany in Victoria. In Victoria, solar panels cannot go to landfill – so, there’s likely a bunch of panels piling up in warehouses and commercial yards looking for a place to go for processing.

As for facilities ready to rock, there’s Reclaim PV, which has struck partnerships with Canadian Solar, Suntech, QCells, Yingli and SunPower (Maxeon) so far.

The company’s first site is in Lonsdale, an industrial suburb in Adelaide’s south. The facility will recycle around 70,000 panels per annum, starting with the 60,000 panels it has already collected from around Australia.

Reclaim PV has also received development approval and  an environmental permit for its second solar panel recycling site, which will be in Brisbane and is due to start recycling later this year.

“A network of drop off locations for solar panels is being established with involvement from QLD councils and waste transfer sites as well as solar industry participants and environmental companies,” states the company.

Reclaim PV says research suggests there will be more than 1 million panels requiring replacement in Australia annually by 2031. While 1 million solar panels stripped off their valuable aluminium frames wouldn’t take up much landfill space, landfill isn’t the best option.

Reclaim’s process goes well beyond just stripping frames, using a controlled pyrolysis method that involves heating the panels to flash points for simple separation of various elements. While it’s currently an expensive process – Reclaim PV charges roughly $10 per panel plus freight to South Australia – if operations can be scaled up and with solar panel manufacturers compelled to take responsibility for collection and recycling, the cost will be brought down.

While this will likely see those costs passed on to consumers, it will be a small price to pay to ensure solar PV waste in Australia is dealt with responsibly.

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. Good point, BUT
    shut the gate after the horse has gone,
    Not enough attention payed when we yelled out years ago, about the cheap imports that wont last, and now they admit it will become a problem.

    But is this deflection,
    Lets get the environment Minister to talk about re cycling solar panels,
    whilst at the same time we burn tuns of coal,
    Have these ministers ever sat with someone dying of coal related illnesses.

    For some reason we put a price on health and life, and would rather have convenience and cash, This unhealthy pattern only stops when it causes harm to those implementing it.

    • George Kaplan says

      To be fair coal is an in-house issue – Australia mines and uses its own coal whilst selling the excess to developing nations which need cheap reliable energy, plus China which seeks to claim the privileged status of a still developing nation despite challenging the US for supremacy.

      Solar by contrast occurs almost exclusively overseas so toxic lakes or the toxic materials including Arsenic, Cadmium, Gallium, Indium, Molybdenum, Phosphorous, and Selenium in production are seen as not our problem!

      Side note. I’ve seen it claimed that “solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.” I can’t comment on the validity of the claim – though it appears to be fairly widespread, only that it sounds rather horrific!!!

      • Ronald Brakels says

        A few points: Around 22% of Australia’s coal goes to developing nations (including metallurgical coal). The rest goes to developed nations. In the past coal may have been the lowest cost option for generation when negative externalities were ignored, but that’s no longer true. Renewables are coming in much cheaper. It’s not looking good for coal with tens of billions of dollars worth of announced projects cancelled over the past decade. Financing costs for coal power stations are up 38% over the past 10 years despite falling interest rates and countries such as Pakistan and Bangledesh have announced a phase out of new coal construction.

        • Ronald, I would really really like to see you do a cooking and camping video, on camping with solar, There are so many great gadgets out there for solar, and I think YOU would be ideal for a solar camping video.

  2. Geoff Miell says

    George Kaplan,
    In 2020, Australia was the world’s largest metallurgical coal exporter (55%), and exported metallurgical coal worth $6.7 billion to India, $6.4 billion to China, $4.8 billion to Japan, $2.6 billion to South Korea, $1.6 billion to Taiwan, and $6 billion to the rest of the world.

    Australia was also the world’s second largest thermal coal exporter (20%), and exported thermal coal worth $6.9 billion to Japan, $2.5 billion to China, $2.1 billion to South Korea, $1.9 billion to Taiwan, $0.5 billion to India, and $2.7 billion to the rest of the world.
    https://www.industry.gov.au/data-and-publications/resources-and-energy-quarterly-march-2021

    Australia is a major exporter of fossil fuels (coal and gas), and these primarily goes to developed countries. What Australia does matters on a global scale.

    Coal and gas are not cheap. Nuclear is very expensive (and LCOE analyses do not include horrendous decommissioning costs).
    https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2020/

    More than 400 million tonnes of toxic coal ash is stored in dump sites across Australia, representing almost 20% of Australia’s total waste stream.
    https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/nsw-coal-ash-mb1927/

    See also my comments at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/productivity-commission-nuclear-mb2021/#comment-1087911

  3. Interesting that Susan Let looks to industry to tackle this issue, seemingly alone.
    Where is the government’s responsibility to do the right thing by environment, citizens, present and future?
    Governments at all 3 levels have done much to boost and invest in the fossil fuel industry likewise they have much to contribute in this matter.
    Awareness, criticism are one thing but where in this reign is there leadership?

  4. Ronald Brakels says

    Hi Nick Woolfenden

    Just letting you know your submitted comment was too long for publication.

    If you can limit comments to just one idea in a single paragraph that will be helpful to other readers. Especially if what you write isn’t directly related to the topic of the post.

  5. Typical politician knee jerk response of “to little to late” .. wait till the situation and problem is uncontrollable then say let’s do something that will take 2 years plus to put in place.. how about get rid of the corrupt cowboy fly bys in the industry first that should of been done well over a decade ago and policed in an appropriate manner its been a disgrace ..

  6. Solar panels waste will have far reaching consequences on the environment. It will be easier to discard Nuclear waste!!!.

    People have very little foresight. Seems like the push is to first change the game and then worry about consequences later.

    Car companies think by creating cars that run on electricity instead of fossil fuel is clean energy!!. It’s just changing the point/ place of pollution.

    Nobody wants to make public transport more feasible and efficient.
    No one says stop using mobiles and tablets!! ( energy guzzlers).

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