Solar energy has been growing at an unprecedented rate throughout the twentieth century. In Australia alone solar PV produced 5.3 % of total electricity consumed in the year 2019 (Clean Energy Council, 2019) and the uptake continues to grow due to falling costs and rising electricity prices.
The uptake of solar energy has many environmental and economic benefits but as we enter 2021 many of the solar installations built during the beginning of the millennium are reaching their end of life. According to Wood Mackenzie approximately $4.2 billion of global solar assets will run into premature failures in 2020 and around $36 billion in 2025 (Wood Mackenzie, 2020). We have published articles that detail how solar panels reaching their end of life can be dealt with, in this article we will cover what options are available for inverters reaching their end of life.
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Disposal of Inverters reaching their end of Life
The expected lifetime for most solar installations are 30 years and solar inverters have an average lifetime of 15 years (The solar guys, 2020). This means that most systems will require their inverters to be replaced at least once during their lifetime. This is bound to create considerable amounts of waste that must be disposed of in the most environmentally safe way possible. Fortunately, there are a few disposal options available to us.
Sell inverters to third party installers
The first option is to sell the inverters to third party solar installers or on online marketplaces. Many medium scale solar power plants replace their inverters when they reach the end of their warranty (10 years). These inverters usually have another 5 – 10 years before they reach their end of life and can be refurbished to replace faulty inverters in other sites. The advantages of using second-hand inverters are:
You can retain your Feed-in Tariff by replacing your existing inverter with a second-hand inverter with the same output.
Buying second-hand can save you more than half the cost of buying new equipment. It could also save you time, if your system is waiting on a replacement.
Some third-party installers even give up to a year in warranty for their refurbished second-hand inverters. The disadvantage is that if the inverter is of an older generation that is not up to the current standards it cannot be connected to the grid, therefore cannot be sold. Some third-party installers that sell second hand solar inverters are:
Cut Price Solar stocks a large range of second-hand grid connect inverters and parts. Get more information at Cut Price Solar's Website.
SecondSol is a marketplace for photovoltaics, solar thermal energy and electric mobility. Get more information at SecondSol’s Website.
Recycle the inverters
When you take inverters apart, the most expensive component category is the mechanical segment, which accounts for one third of the inverter’s total Bill of materials (see Table 1). These mechanical components make extensive use of commodity metals which can be recyclable (IHS, 2012). The passive components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, and filters) account for 29%, while the electromechanical components (connectors, relays, fuses and switches) make 16% of the total Bill of materials.
The solar inverter recycling process involves removing hazardous and valuable materials, scraping reusable components, and limiting the impact these older inverters might leave on the environment. As seen in Table 2, the most recyclable material constitutes the Metals and Printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA). Metals make up 60% of the inverter weight and 90% of metals can be recycled while Printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA) make up 40% of the inverter weight and 65% of PCBA can be recycled.
Get them recycled for free
To get your inverters recycled you can either use Australia’s existing e-waste recycling system or third party recyclers. In Victoria, they can be taken to e-waste drop-off points located all around the state as shown in figure 1, from where they are sent on to an e-waste recycler for recycling and extraction of valuable materials for reuse (Sustainability Victoria, 2019).
You can also have them dropped off at private recyclers such as Electronic Recycling Australia and MRI e-cycle solutions. They take dropped off old inverters for free. Electronic Recycling Australia is located in South Australia and MRI e-cycle solutions sites in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney.
Electronic Recycling Australia leads the way in responsible electrical and electronic goods recycling. Read more information at Electronic Recycling Australia’s Website.
National recycling solutions for electronics and batteries. Read more information at MRI e-cycle solutions' Website.
Pay to get inverters Recycled
There are also companies that pick solar inverters from site to get them recycled. These companies charge you to dispose of your inverter as electronic waste. If you are charged by weight it’s likely to cost around 80 cents a kilogram. That would mean about $20 for a typical inverter of 5 kilowatts or less. Old Inverters which have transformers inside can be sold to scrap merchants for their valuable wiring and metal (Brakels, 2019).
We Recycle Solar is a complete service provider for solar equipment from utility-scale teardowns of PV panels to solar inverters and solar micro-inverters. Read more information at We Recycle Solar’s Website.
Year-round Recycling Services Available Australia-wide. Read more information at Ecoactiv’s Website.
At Energy Terrain we are committed to seeing a world powered by renewable energy and incorporate sustainability as the underlying thread of everything we do. Through the Solar PPA offered by Energy Terrain, we provide your business with the energy you require while our company handles the maintenance and the end of life disposal of the system. So you as a business can focus on your core activities and know that you are a part of a greater vision for a sustainable world for generations to come.
Brakels, R., 2019. 7 Ways To Get Rid Of Unwanted Solar Panels. [Online] Available at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/solar-panel-recycling-disposal/ [Accessed 14 January 2021].
Clean Energy Council, 2019. Solar. [Online] Available at: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/resources/technologies/solar-energy [Accessed 14 January 2021].
Huawei, 2020. Product Carbon Footprint Report, s.l.: Ske Solar. Available at: Zertifikat-Product-Carbon-Footprint-Report-für-Huawei-SUN2000-12KTL-M0-Wechselrichter.pdf (ske-solar.com) [Accessed 14 January 2021].
IHS, 2012. IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis of Solar Inverter, Identifying the Cost-Reduction Opportunities. [Online] Available at: https://www.altenergymag.com/article/2012/01/ihs-isuppli-teardown-analysis-of-solar-inverter-identifying-the-cost-reduction-opportunities/997/ [Accessed 14 January 2020].
Sustainability Victoria , 2019. National approach to manage solar panel, inverter and battery lifecycles. [Online] Available at: https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/About-us/Research/Solar-energy-system-lifecycles [Accessed 14 January 2020].
The solar guys, 2020. How long do solar inverters last?. [Online] Available at: https://thosesolarguys.com/how-long-do-solar-inverters-last/ [Accessed 14 January 2021].
Wood Mackenzie, 2020. Wood Mackenzie. [Online] Available at: https://www.woodmac.com/press-releases/annual-solar-repairs-and-maintenance-spend-to-grow-to-$9-billion-by-2025/ [Accessed 12 January 2021].