Two regional New South Wales businesses working to develop solutions to Australia’s growing solar waste problem have won grant funding from the Liberal state government, in the first round of its $10 million Circular Solar program.
The first of the grants, just over $215,000, was awarded to Newcastle-based company Blue Tribe to trial the use of decommissioned panels in a community solar project and test the feasibility of a secondary marketplace for recycled panels.
According to the Circular Solar website, the Second-Life Solar project will establish a small community-based solar garden using “decommissioned yet serviceable” PV panels, that would otherwise have wound up in the tip.
The project will also develop a business model and testing methodology to apply to the establishment of a secondary marketplace for decommissioned solar panels.
“This will extend the solar panels’ service life, offer an alternative to premature waste disposal of decommissioned panels, divert serviceable solar panels from landfill, provide clean energy and a source of income to solar gardeners, and contribute to NSW’s renewable energy target,” the site says.
The second Circular Solar grant awarded almost $946,000 to The Solar Professionals, based in Wagga Wagga, to develop technology that dismantles end-of-life solar panels into uncontaminated components, and to test the use of solar panel glass in greenhouses.
As the website elaborates, this project will “delaminate” non-working solar cells and convert them into uncontaminated solar cell components, in collaboration with Deakin University and a glass delamination expert. The product of the glass and frame will be trailed as a construction material in commercial glasshouses.
NSW energy minister Matt Kean said the Circular Solar program was about supporting projects that prevented solar systems – including home batteries – ending up in landfill.
Kean said the the volume of solar panels and battery storage system waste was forecast to reach between 3,000 and 10,000 tonnes a year by 2025, and between 40,000 and 71,000 tonnes a year by 2035.
Such is the potential scale of the solar waste problem that the federal environment minister recently gave the industry a July 2022 deadline to finalise an industry-led nationwide solar panel recycling scheme.
Australia-based efforts to recycle used solar panels have started up in South Australia and Brisbane, via the company Reclaim PV, and in Melbourne through a co-operative called Lotus Energy.
But recycling is not the only option. As One Step reported here, another important avenue that is being explored is the market for second-hand panels, which currently exists at a niche level, only – but holds major potential.
“The take-up of solar and other household renewables in NSW and Australia is among the highest in the world,” said Kean in a statement on Monday.
“That huge take-up of cheap, reliable, renewable energy means we have a rapidly increasing waste stream as panels reach the end of their operational life,” Kean said.
“Now is the time to invest in developing systems for collecting, recycling and re-using so we can keep these valuable resources out of the tip and drive a productive circular economy.”
The government said a second round of grant funding under the program would open in September for projects under three categories: new and expanded infrastructure; research and development for reuse, second hand or refurbished items, and market development for recovered materials, and; collection and recovery logistics.
For more information on the grant scheme, visit here.