Plan to create solar panel circular economy

A report from Arup has set out a roadmap for a circular economy in photovoltaic panels.

Acknowledging that PV solar rooftop panels can provide a sustainable energy source for Australian businesses and household, the report outlines that with the current adoption of solar, there will be between 300,000 and 450,000 tonnes of panel waste by 2040.

Developing this chain of supply into a circular economy, will require leadership from government, manufacturers, and investors, however also provides opportunities.

With 92 per cent of panels in Australia in 2015 being silicon-based, the recycling of these products presents a stream of this material for remanufacturing. Another high value material in the panels is silver, which make up 47 per cent of the relative value of materials in solar panels. This is followed by aluminium at 26 per cent.

From the outset, the report notes, manufacturers should be engaged to design out waste components in the panels, and enable easy repairability, reusability, and recyclability.

To enable circular models of design, manufacture, and use, the report sets out the need for standardisation, and modular designs. Here, local manufacturers could find a niche, as although most solar panel manufacturers are based in Asia, to reduce the cost of remanufacture and associated removal, transport, and repair, Australian manufacturers could provide services to extend the life of solar panels in use. This would also address a lack of motivation by overseas manufacturers to engage with their products at the end of their life.

The key recommendations of the report point towards shared initiatives between industry, policymakers, businesses, and investors.