Dubbo leads circular economy for solar panels

reuse solar panels

Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) is a pilot site for a first-of-its-kind project to reuse solar panels.

In June 2022, an 8kW solar system made up of second hand (serviceable) solar panels was installed on the Small Vehicle Receival Centre at council’s Whylandra Waste and Recycling Centre in Dubbo.

While solar panels are a popular way to save energy and promote better outcomes environmentally, there is a need to provide better options for solar panel reuse and recycling when solar panels are removed and replaced.

The council has partnered with Blue Tribe, CSIRO, Solar Professionals and the NSW Office of Energy and Climate Change’s Sustainability Advantage to pilot the project. This project has been funded under the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Circular Solar Grants Program.

Mathew Dickerson, Mayor of Dubbo Regional Council, said he is pleased to hear Dubbo is leading the way when it comes to recycling solar panels.

“Dubbo Regional Council is a proud partner of the Second Life Solar project (Phase 1), where we are exploring the reuse of solar panels rather than disposing of the panels into landfill,” Dickerson said.

“Our main role is to host the solar system made up of second hand (serviceable) solar panels on the Small Vehicle Receival Centre at the Whylandra Waste and Recycling Centre, here in Dubbo giving them a new life.”

With council participating in this trial to reuse solar panels, it’s hoped that residents will one day be able to reuse solar panels in their own homes or businesses.

John Wisniewski, Dubbo Council Manager Resource Recovery and Efficiency said that by participating in the trial the council is boosting the service life of solar panels, and increasing the uptake of renewable energy, helping to meet council’s 50 per cent renewable energy target.

“eThere are more than 2.8 million small-scale solar systems installed Australia-wide, and Dubbo is the second largest installer of small-scale solar systems in New South Wales,” Wisniewski said. “If we can find extended uses for our solar panels, we’ll be reducing our overall environmental footprint.”

While the current volume of solar panel and associated battery waste is quite small, a scoping study commissioned by the Department of Planning and Environment predicts that by the year 2025, there will be between 3000 to 10,000 tonnes per year going to landfill, and 40,000 to 71,000 tonnes by 2035.

Australia leads the way in rooftop solar installations, but solar panels are emerging as a growing source of waste and many of the solar panels currently being disposed of have many years of service life remaining.

Solar panels are designed to operate for 25-30 years but as people upgrade to larger solar systems on their homes and businesses, they are disposing of solar panels that are less than 10 years old because they don’t know what else to do with them.

James McGregor from the Blue Tribe Company said the Dubbo project is about giving these panels a second life by diverting them from landfill and using them to continue to generate clean energy.

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