Circular photovoltaics: circular business models for Australia’s solar photovoltaics industry

Circular economy Energy industries Energy resources Renewable energy Solar energy Waste minimization Australia

Australia reached 10,000 MW of installed solar photovoltaic capacity in 2018, with the vast majority coming from small rooftop systems. This represents a significant step towards a more sustainable energy generation mix in Australia. While this will create benefits for Australia now and in the years to come, the impacts of the growth of the solar PV industry need to be considered in full. One such impact is the production of panel waste which is expected to be between 300,000 and 450,000 tonnes by 2040.

Waste from all sectors needs to be reduced if the world is to develop sustainably, run efficiently and find new sources of value, including the photovoltaic industry. Achieving this contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 12, which focuses on “doing more and better with less”, but more generally has the potential to provide improved social and environmental outcomes globally.

The circular economy concept is key in achieving many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It focuses on reducing externalities and retaining value throughout the supply chain, which will be essential for addressing current and future panel waste in the photovoltaic industry. At its core, the circular economy is decoupling resource use and economic growth. It does so through its three core principles:

  1. Designing out waste and pollution
  2. Keeping products and materials in use
  3. Regenerating natural systems

This report explores the opportunities presented by the circular economy for the photovoltaic industry in Australia by analysing the current state of play of the industry and the circular economy, outlining how circular business models could apply to the lifecycle of a photovoltaic panel, and recommending ways forward for industry stakeholders.

In doing so, this report aims to stimulate leadership and collaboration in the industry on its inevitable transition towards a circular economy.


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