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Where solar panels go to die

Sustainability Victoria is thinking circular in outlining a new research project to understand end of life management approaches for Photovoltaic (PV) systems with the objective of assessing options to progress a national product stewardship program, its CEO Stan Krpan said today.

“For the purposes of the assessment, the term PV systems includes solar panels and PV system accessories such as inverter equipment and energy storage systems used in domestic, commercial and industrial applications,” said Krpan.

“Product stewardship is an approach where producers, retailers and consumers take responsibility for the environmental and health related impacts of a product across its lifecycle.

“With the much-needed influx of solar panel installations, we need to put a robust system in place for how we manage these products at the end of their life cycle and recirculate recovered resources so they can reach their fullest potential as part of the circular economy.”
“A circular economy is where products and materials are kept circulating within the economy at their greatest value for as long as possible through recovery, recycling, remanufacturing, re-use and through innovative business models such as delivering services and sharing products,” he said.

Sustainability Victoria has appointed an Equilibrium, Ernst & Young joint project team to support this detailed analysis, which is set to be completed by the end of 2018.

“We are also working closely with the Clean Energy Council and solar industry who have been supportive to date and have shown leadership,” said Krpan.

In 2015, Sustainability Victoria conducted a Victorian-based e-waste market flow and technology trends analysis in preparation for the states forthcoming e-waste landfill ban commencing 1 July 2019.

This work identified solar panels as the most rapidly growing e-waste stream in future years due to increased use, with a general life span of 15-35 years for the product.

PV system components are products of concern as they present potential risks to the environment and human health if not managed safely at end-of-life; largely due to the material contained within PV system components which can be hazardous.

“This is a key reason why we are exploring end-of-life management options available before PV system components enter Victoria’s waste stream in significant volumes,” Mr Krpan said.

The Victorian Government has a multi-pronged approach to managing e-waste including the implementation of an e-waste landfill ban, investment in e-waste reprocessing through infrastructure grants, an e-waste awareness campaign and the PV system product stewardship project.

The $15 million of e-waste infrastructure grants are available to increase local government’s capacity and capability to safely collect and store the increasing volumes of e-waste in Victoria. These grants will establish one of the best e-waste collection networks in Australia.

As a dedicated business unit within Sustainability Victoria, Solar Victoria is now delivering the Solar Homes Package announced last week by the Victorian Government.

Until 30 June, 2019, the package provides a 50 per cent rebate on the cost of a solar PV system, up to a maximum of $2,225 (equivalent to the current price for an average 4kW system), or a $1,000 rebate on the cost of a solar hot water system.

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