Aussies urged to avoid cheap 'landfill solar'
On the eve of International E-Waste Day, Australians are being urged to invest in good-quality rooftop solar systems that will stand the test of time.
Solar uptake in Australia is at record levels, with the second-highest installation rate recorded last month and year-on-year numbers increasing more than 40%, despite the pandemic.
While solar uptake is a positive move to help mitigate climate change, solar expert Finn Peacock says that consumers need to avoid cheap systems that quickly contribute to e-waste and hinder the overall environmental benefits of solar systems.
E-waste recognition and the benefits of a circular economy are rapidly gaining global awareness as part of the planet’s environmental solutions. International E-Waste Day focuses on education and is marked in almost 50 countries with a variety of programs.
“Our Australian enthusiasm for solar needs to be matched by increasing education about the best practice approach,” Peacock said.
“Because solar panels in Australia today are not recycled (apart from the aluminium frame in some cases), purchasers need to inform themselves and choose to invest in systems that will last as long as possible.
“A good-quality solar panel should last 25–40 years.”
Peacock has seen cheap panels last as little as three years, which would contribute to the 80+% of e-waste that is not collected globally. International E-Waste Day is campaigning to educate next-generation users, targeting families, teachers and communities to reach a younger audience.
Peacock’s independent business SolarQuotes has passed a significant milestone of 500,000 solar enquiries and has reported that enquiries are increasing exponentially, with 2020 being the busiest year yet, despite COVID-19.
“We are at a tipping point,” Peacock said.
“These numbers reflect the rapidly growing appetite for solar in this country and E-waste Day is a firm reminder that buying a quality system is a way to become a responsible consumer.
“A quality solar system can typically reduce household power bills by $1000–2000 per year, depending on location. But the real value comes when you don’t have to replace the system after a few years.
“By the time the quality panels need to be replaced, at up to 40 years, it is a safe bet that the technology would have caught up and cost-effective solar panel recycling in Australia will be mainstream.”
The first dedicated solar panel recycling facility in Europe was opened by environmental services company Veolia in Rousset, France, in 2018, but the technology is yet to reach Australia.
Around 96% of a solar panel’s weight can be recycled. By weight, a crystalline solar panel consists of approximately 76% glass, 10% polymer, 8% aluminium, 5% silicon, 1% copper and <0.1% silver and other metals. The challenge for Australia is to extract these materials from the solar panel economically.
The approximate value of the materials in one solar panel is as follows:
- Glass: 40 cents
- Plastic: 9 cents
- Silicon: 21 cents
- Silver: $6.40
- Copper: 85 cents
Until the cost of recycling is less than the value of the component materials, it is likely that scrapped solar will end up in landfill.
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