What Happens to Solar Panels in Victoria When They Die?

Renewable energy. It’s an ever-evolving landscape.

And as the demand for solar panels cranks up across the globe, the ethical dimensions of solar panel disposal are, at last, taking centre stage. Beyond their primary function of capturing and utilising the sun’s energy, understanding what happens to solar panels when they reach the end of their lifespan is becoming integral to the sustainability narrative.

Because here’s the thing: dig deeper into the history of that super-cheap solar panel company you’re considering, and it’s likely you’ll find that not only are the panels less effective than they claim, but they’re unethically made too.

This article traverses the complexities of solar panel recycling in Victoria, probing the ethical intricacies regarding their disposal at end-of-life, and deep-dives into the pivotal role of ESG-aligned choices in sculpting the future of all-electric homes in Victoria.

Let’s start with the basics.

Why is solar panel recycling important?

In the kaleidoscope of our eco-conscious era, the ethical imperative of recycling solar panels has presented as a non-negotiable pact with the planet.

Why is it so crucial, though? Let’s delve deeper into the moral quandaries that underscore the urgency of this approach.

Solar panels, the harbingers of clean energy, hold a darker secret: their end-of-life disposal. In a world in which the solar industry is undergoing a significant boom, the demand for panels has risen – bringing with it a swathe of cheaply-made, ethically-questionable models.

The predominantly glass, polymer, and aluminium components of panels may also harbour hazardous materials such as lead, copper, and zinc – particularly so if the panel is cheaply manufactured. What’s more, the production process of the silicone in these panels has recently been found to be ethically questionable – more on this later.

Currently, almost all broken or expired solar panels across the country go into landfill and key industry and environmental experts have been warning for a long time that more than 100,000 tonnes of solar modules will end up in the same place by 2035.

In fact, only a handful of solar panel recycling plants operate in Australia, including perhaps the most significant of these: Reclaim PV in Adelaide. Unfortunately, Victoria currently isn’t served by the same key programs.

As these solar panel materials find their way into landfills, these substances – understandably – continue to contribute to the Earth’s growing pollution problem.

The uncomfortable truth for many is that the environmental toll of neglecting responsible disposal practices is a stain on the vastly green promise of solar energy.

Moreover, with around 3 million Australian homes now sporting rooftop solar PV panels, the surge for solar energy that began around 2010 is about to result in exponential growth in the number of solar panels nearing the end of their lives. Current estimates predict that more than 100,000 tonnes of solar modules will end up in Australian landfills by 2035.

An important question now looms: can the environmental cost of this impending waste crisis be mitigated?

What’s so difficult about solar panel recycling?

Unfortunately, there are huge complexities woven into the process of giving solar panels a second life. The conventional challenge lies in the lengthy and expensive process of dismantling and separating their components.

However, a glimmer of hope now emanates from the research laboratories of Deakin University.

Recently, researchers have pioneered a new thermal and chemical technique designed to extract silicon from obsolete panels. What sets their method apart is its reliance on complex heating and chemical processes that omit the use of dangerous chemicals for extracting valuable silicon. This not only makes the process more viable but also positions it as an environmentally friendly alternative.

The implications of this breakthrough extend beyond mere recycling; the nanoparticle material made from silicon proves to be economically enticing. With an approximate value of AU$45,000 per kilogram for nano silicon, the financial incentive adds a new layer to the recycling discourse.

As we explore this innovative avenue, questions arise: can this technology revolutionise the recycling landscape, and what role will it play in reshaping the industry?

What is the problem with silicone in solar panels?

The problem with unethical silicone and solar panels lies at the intersection of renewable energy goals and the ethical concerns surrounding forced labour in the production of solar modules around the world.

Here’s a breakdown of the key issues:

Cheap solar panels for sale in Victoria are more likely to contain silicone manufactured by forced labour

The primary ethical concern surrounding the use of silicon in solar panels revolves around forced labour in the production of solar modules – particularly solar-grade polysilicon.

Research from Sheffield Hallam University’s Helena Kennedy Center for International Justice has recently revealed a swathe of forced labour infiltrating global solar supply chains. Solar modules, constituting 95% of solar panels, heavily rely on solar-grade polysilicon. Alarmingly, 45% of the world’s supply of solar-grade polysilicon comes from regions of the world in which forced labour is known to occur.

The need for transparency regarding solar panel sales in Victoria

Supply chain transparency is crucial in identifying and addressing ethical issues associated with solar panels.

To begin, product information and genomes provide a predictive bill of materials, allowing organisations and individuals alike the opportunity to carefully scrutinise the components of their prospective panels and uncover potential health-related and ethical risks.

Understanding the interconnected nature of the supply chain, including tier-one and sub-suppliers, enhances visibility and aids in the making of more thoughtfully informed decisions.

What’s more, transparency facilitates tracking trading partners and their connections, offering a clearer picture of the origins of purchased products.

Ethical sourcing of solar panel materials

Recognising that perfection is elusive, organisations, manufactures, and individuals alike can take action by mapping their supply chain and conducting thorough evaluations of potential suppliers.

Put simply, it’s important to ask your solar retailer the big questions about how and where your panels are made.

What happens when you cross a saturated solar market with a lack of solar panel recycling facilities?

Unfortunately, the lack of a national solar recycling initiative means that more often than not, your panels are likely to end up in landfill – of course, a situation that’s vastly dependent on where you live in Australia.

And as you can imagine, for many consumers, this would once-and-for-all disrupt the very reason why they installed solar in the first place: the increase the value and sustainability potential of their home.

The solution? Opt for solar panels for sale in Victoria that are ethically made – much like our SunPower Maxeon and REC models.

What are ESGs in relation to solar panels?

ESGs santdas for “ethical, sustainable, and governed standards” and choices in the solar industry.

As you can now imagine, ESG considerations and ESG-aligned choices are now becoming increasingly crucial for Victorian corporations, investors, and consumers alike.

The solar industry, with its aspirations for a more sustainable tomorrow, is poised to play a pivotal role in fostering a conscientious energy landscape. However, it can often be difficult to understand what steps you, as an individual homeowner, can take to ensure your solar journey is more ethically aligned.

When you decide to buy solar panels, asking your solar panel retailer ESG-related questions about your solar panels is a key tactic.

What questions should I ask my solar panel retailer?

Wondering how to avoid the myriad of issues we’ve just discussed? We get it.

Here are three great questions to ask your solar panel retailer that help assess the ethics of the panels you’re considering:

  • What is the solar panels’ brand and type, and where were the components made?
  • What’s included in my warranty? (Look for parts and labour warranty – not one or the other)
  • How long has the manufacturer been in business? Were they previously known under different names?

All in all, if the solar company you’re considering is offering products with a warranty that totals fewer years than the company itself has been around, we suggest proceeding with utmost caution.

In our experience, this can often indicate a sub-quality or “flash in the pan” product that’s more likely to be unethical, unsustainable, or of high likelihood of early replacement (and, thus, a trip to landfill).

So – where to now?

As we navigate the intricate intersections of solar panel afterlife, ESG alignment, and the ethical imperative for green accountability, the call resounds louder than ever: the need for a harmonious coexistence between our quest for clean energy and the unwavering commitment to a planet that deserves not just a greener tomorrow but a cleaner legacy overall.

The journey toward ethical solar solutions is long, but it’s a journey worth taking for the sake of generations to come. In the ever-expanding realm of renewable energy, it’s important to let our choices reflect a commitment to sustainability that transcends the mere harnessing of the sun’s energy. More so than ever, this is about embracing responsible stewardship of our planet.

Wrapping up

Are you looking for trusted, generous, hassle-free advice regarding solar panels for sale in Victoria, plus more info on the brands and models we stock and recommend here at G Store?

Visit our Learning Centre’s collection of solar panel articles and guides today, check out our range of solar solutions online, or give our award-winning G Store team a call today on 1300 137 567.

We can’t wait to meet you.

Sources

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-06/what-happens-to-solar-panels-after-their-useful-life-is-over/100193244
https://www.solar.vic.gov.au/questions-retailer
https://www.frdm.co/blogs/solar-vs-human-rights#:~:text=If%20the%20vast%20majority%20of,address%20the%20conditions%20in%20Xinjiang
https://www.euronews.com/green/2023/03/06/recycling-dead-solar-panels-isnt-easy-these-australian-scientists-might-have-found-a-solut

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