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A recent report from Australia has highlighted the issue of early retirement of solar panels, with many owners replacing them after only a few years of use. While the technical lifetime of solar panels is typically 25 to 30 years, the practical lifespan in Australia is estimated to be only 10 to 15 years due to the availability of cheaper and more efficient panels. This trend is leading to a potential crisis in the industry, as the cost of recycling solar panels is estimated to range between $500 and $1000 per tonne.

Currently, Victoria and South Australia are the only states in Australia that have banned solar panels from being disposed of in landfills, with only a limited number of recycling facilities available. Specialists in the industry claim that up to 90 per cent of materials from solar panels can be recovered and reused. Lotus Energy, based in Melbourne, has opened a facility that it says can reuse 100 per cent of the materials recovered from solar panels.

In response to the growing issue of solar waste, the Victorian government announced a $10 million “solar waste challenge” in September 2022, aimed at investing in innovative solutions to reduce solar waste. However, the investment in solutions for recycling solar panels remains a challenge, with concerns over the economic viability of recycling panels that are currently being stockpiled in sheds.

Libertarian MP David Limbrick has raised concerns about the lack of economic opportunities for recycling solar panels in the Victorian parliament. Despite initiatives such as the $150,000 grant to Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials to extract silicon from old panels, there is still a need for more investment in technology to improve the recovery and reuse of solar panels.

The Victorian government is working with the Commonwealth on setting up a national stewardship program to work with industry to improve the recovery and reuse of solar panels. State opposition energy spokesman David Davis has highlighted the need for more action to address the increasing volume of end-of-life solar panels that need to be dealt with. As the market for solar panels continues to grow, there is a pressing need for more research and investment in recycling technology to minimize environmental impact and ensure the sustainability of the solar energy industry in Australia.

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