A NSW Government website

Second life solar

Story of success

When it comes to renewable energy, NSW is forging ahead, with about a third of NSW homes and small businesses having rooftop solar. Installing the latest solar technology comes at a cost, with recent research finding that solar panels from photovoltaic (PV) systems are emerging as a growing source of waste. 

People replace solar panels for a range of reasons. They may have a single damaged panel, but replace the whole system, or they might need to repair or replace their roof and decide to ‘upgrade’ their solar system at the same time. Whatever the reason, many perfectly good panels end up in the skip bin.

Pile of old solar panels

Blue Tribe estimates that Australia will accumulate up to 1 million tonnes of solar panel waste by 2033 — if laid end-to-end, these PV panels would encircle the earth 3 times.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy and the Environment and Water’s Sustainability Advantage team recognised that this presented a significant ‘circular economy’ opportunity. And it’s one that’s about to be fully realised with a full scale 100 kW system at Wagga Wagga comprised of solar panels that were destined for landfill.


A successful pilot

Sustainability Advantage teamed up with the Blue Tribe Company, Dubbo Regional Council, and the CSIRO to address this waste problem and out of this collaboration Second Life Solar was formed. With funding from the NSW Environment Protection Authority, they developed an innovative testing method to evaluate the condition of used solar panels and built an 8-kW second-hand solar garden at Dubbo Council’s Whylandra Waste and Recycling Centre. This successful pilot is now providing the evidence for them to scale up to commercial size – 10 times larger than the pilot.

The Dubbo plant successfully showcased the cost-benefits of reused solar panels with CSIRO addressing the technical challenges and testing the second-hand panels for viability and monitoring performance. Tests show the Dubbo panels are performing at 104% - as good, or better than, new. 

Screenshot of software showing solar panel usage

A commercial product

With this evidence, and with further funding from the NSW EPA, Second Life Solar is now installing a full-scale 100 kW demonstration system at the Kurrajong waste and recycling centre at Wagga Wagga. This system will reuse about 300 PV panels that would have otherwise ended up in landfill.  

‘‘The pilot at Dubbo was about giving solar panels a second life by diverting them from landfill and using them to continue to generate clean energy and help us reach NSW’s net zero targets sooner,” says James McGregor from Blue Tribe. “But, the mission was to help create a circular solar industry and develop a pathway to reuse solar panels at scale. The new plant at Wagga Wagga is the first step in realising a truly commercial operation.”

Solar panels with garden in background

The goal is to launch a new secondary marketplace that will divert 10,000 tonnes a year of reusable end-of-life solar panels by 2030.

A fully circular industry

While much of the conversation surrounding end-of-life solar panels has focussed on recycling, it is important to consider a fully circular solar industry that includes reuse and remanufacturing. The plan is that eventually when the panels finally reach the end of their serviceable life, components such as silicon, silver, copper, aluminium and glass could be recycled in the manufacture of new solar panels.

Second Life Solar is continuing to develop solutions to solar panel waste, including exploring the opportunity to remanufacture new solar panels from old ones and a project to recover silicon, silver, copper and aluminium.

A fully circular solar industry has the potential to generate significant economic benefits and jobs while reducing supply chain risks. Solar panel reuse allows businesses and the Government to achieve net zero, circular economy and renewable energy outcomes in a single project.

Second Life Solar has been recognised by leading industry groups, winning the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Impactio Challenge, and as a finalist in The Circle Awards AUS & NZ 2022 in the 2022 NSW Banksia Awards. 

Solar panels with Sydney harbour in background

‘If we’re to accelerate the transition needed to address the climate crisis, we need to collaborate across government, industry and research to find innovative solutions. This project exemplifies what can be achieved when we do just that.’ Celia Tesoriero, Sustainability Advantage Manager

Find out more about Second Life Solar