The recycling of PV solar modules is an important concern and one which, with the young age of the Australian solar energy industry, has not really been addressed until quite recently. Solar modules in Australia are expected to have a lifespan of anywhere between 15 and 35 years, and this means that while until now, the numbers of panels needing to be recycled have been relatively low, we can expect a massive influx of retired panels hitting skips soon.
But not if Australia’s first large-scale recycling project has anything to say on the matter. Clive Fleming’s Reclaim PV Recycling is aiming to be the central hub for the oncoming influx of panels needing to be recycled in the near future. The company is currently in the process of setting up a network of drop-off points across Australia with solar PV installers such as ourselves to expedite the process of moving retired panels from around the nation to their initial recycling plant just outside of Adelaide, with plans for more recycling plants across the nation in the future.
A study conducted in 2016, which was jointly run by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) gave us the estimate that roughly 78 million tonnes of raw materials, valued at US$15 billion could be recovered from solar panels globally by 2050.
If it weren’t for the environmentally-conscious folk at Reclaim PV Recycling, it is likely that tonnes of solar waste would be left in landfills. This can result in leach materials, such as tin, lead and cadmium finding their way into the groundwater in the area, causing both environmental and health concerns. Not to mention the massive amount of wasted land and materials.
The proportion of materials potentially recoverable from solar panels is typically glass (75%), aluminium (8%), silicon (5%), copper (1%) and smaller amounts of silver, tin, lead and other components.
Once Fleming’s operation is fully underway, he will first open with a capacity for 70,000 recycled panels per year, which is around equal to the number he currently has stored waiting for recycling, waiting for the company to kick it into high gear. But once things are underway, the operations will only continue to expand, making it easier and easier for ‘unstallers’, and electricians who must remove old, faulty systems from rooftops around Australia to ensure that the retired products get disposed of properly by finding their way to one of Fleming’s recycling plants.
We couldn’t be happier to see operations like Reclaim PV Recycling and the network they are creating getting started in Australia, as they represent sustainable growth for the solar energy industry. By ensuring that the retired panels have somewhere to go where they will not be damaging to the environment and the materials can be reclaimed and used elsewhere, they ensure that more and more homes across Australia can install new panels and PV systems, and enjoy all the benefits associated with a solar energy system, without any fear for what will become of their system when it’s time for its retirement. Here’s to you, Reclaim PV Recycling.