Australian researchers bag funding to investigate reusing unwanted solar panels

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Solar panels installed on roofs in South Australia. Image: CSIRO.

Grant funding has been awarded to a project in Australia that will explore the potential revenue streams and consumer interest in used solar PV panels.

A team from the University of Queensland will look to identify market or policy barriers to reusing, repurposing and recycling panels after securing AU$42,869 (US$29,478) in funding from Energy Consumers Australia, which represents residential and small business energy consumers.

The project also aims to identify opportunities to use a circular economy for panels to better include consumers who can’t currently access solar because of financial constraints.   

There is “massive potential” if a circular economy for solar panels can be unlocked, said Energy Consumers Australia CEO Lynne Gallagher.

“This will not only reduce waste, but it is also potentially a way for those who cannot afford the cost of new solar PV equipment to generate their own energy at a more reasonable cost.”  

According to Energy Consumers Australia, recovering discarded solar panels to reuse, repurpose or recycle is a billion-dollar opportunity, but many panels are replaced well before their useful life as cheaper and more efficient models come onto the market. 

The organisation said that as well as the negative environmental consequences, this leads to a “significant missed opportunity” to provide access to PV to consumers not currently able to, as well as cost savings to existing PV owners, through panel reclaiming and repurposing.   

To date, global solar panel recycling efforts have been sporadic, with some proactive manufacturers taking charge, according to Emilie Oxel O’Leary, CEO of Green Clean Solar, a US company focusing on the removal and disposal of waste materials and recyclable materials from PV plants.

Writing in a feature article, published in the latest edition of PV Tech Power, she said: “We are witnessing a transition toward a circular solar economy thanks to varying degrees of effort and action.”

The University of Queensland project was among the six recipients of more than AU$429,000 in grant funding from Energy Consumers Australia, with other beneficiaries focusing on areas including measures to promote energy-efficient housing, among others.

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