February 2023.

Soutpan Solar Power, in Limpopo Province, is successfully managing their e-waste, with damaged or failed solar panels being recycled into bricks locally – adding to its environmental benefits. Previously, the precious metals were sent overseas to be recycled, however, this renewable energy facility is now managing the process locally, thereby avoiding large carbon emissions, in addition to stimulating the local economy.

Managed by Globeleq South Africa Management Services, panels are now safely being recycled across all of the company’s six solar sites unless they can be repaired, which is the first option. This is managed in-house, with trained local staff that have been efficient in managing sizeable quantities.

“Previously, the precious metals had to be sent overseas to be recycled, but now we can avoid those large carbon emissions by getting the panels recycled properly here. In fact, all panels across all our solar sites get recycled. We are not permitted to store more than 80 cubes of hazardous waste on site at one time, which amounts to approximately 1300 panels. As soon as we accumulate 1000 panels, we take them to be recycled,” explained Marli Schoeman, Environmental Specialist for Soutpan Solar Power and Globeleq South Africa Management Services.

Panels are susceptible to lightening damage, and solar power projects expect a general rate of 0.1% panel failure. The first option is always to repair the panels, which has the added benefit of upskilling and supporting local employment.

“We have trained our staff on site to repair any panels that can be reused, instead of sending them off for recycling. This has been very successful with thousands currently being repaired in house,” added Schoeman.

Globeleq South Africa Management Services makes use of several other biodiversity interventions across their sites, in addition to this programme. Most of the plants have ceased washing their solar panels, which uses scarce water supplies in South Africa’s drought-prone areas.

“Everyone assumes we wash the panels regularly, but we have discovered that rainfall is sufficient to wash the panels. Approximately 5000 litres of water is saved per day through this initiative and we haven’t washed the panels at Soutpan Solar Power for the last three years,” concluded Schoeman.