What is it? Online platform ZonNext - the solar panel "orphanage"- connects supply and demand of used solar panels with each other, in order to extend the lifetime and stimulate the reuse of panels that will last for a number of years. Consider, for example, owners who replace their current solar panels with new panels before the end of their lifespan. Or suppliers who have whole batches returned because a small number of panels in the system are broken. These panels can easily make a new start, for example on the roofs of schools and public buildings, or on houses of housing corporations and in fair solar solar parks.
Why is this important? To combat climate change and guarantee sustainable development of the Dutch economy, the use of solar power must increase significantly in the coming years. Clean, sustainable electricity can be generated by means of solar panels. In 2020, 13% of electricity in the Netherlands was generated by solar panels (CBS, 2021). In 2022, 18% of Dutch homes had solar panels installed, which is expected to grow to 34% in 2030 (DNE Research, 2022). By encouraging the reuse of economically depreciated solar panels, the ZonNext Foundation contributes to reducing the growing problem of electronic waste, promoting circularity and increasing the social value of solar panels within Dutch society.
Main resource strategy: Slowing the loop by collecting used solar panels, preparing them for reuse and taking care of installation.
Business model aspects:
1. Value Proposition: A full-service, full certified circular solar panel at a reduced price compared to new panels. Additional benefits of, first, decreased climatic impacts, such as less CO2, less materials, clean energy. Second, the reuse of solar panels leads to less e-waste. Third, the lower price makes solar energy accessible for everyone. Fourth, the model contributes to making solar PV more fair and social, and decreases the political-economic dependency on materials from other continents.
2. Value Creation & Delivery: To optimize reuse, ZonNext has entered into a partnership with Weee Nederland, which collects the reusable panels as part of the producer responsibility and collects them in Apeldoorn. The panels that qualify for reuse are then inspected by Refurn, a social enterprise and implementing organization that collaborates with Weee Nederland. People with a distance to the labor market are deployed and trained to carry out these inspections. The inspection is TÜV certified. After each inspection, an individual report is drawn up about each solar panel, which includes the age, condition and Wp capacity of the panel. This report provides more information than new solar panels, which are usually tested on a random basis. Thanks to this inspection and the extensive inspection report, applicants know exactly what they are getting for each purchased solar panel.
Subsequently, the panels that qualify for reuse are offered via ZonNext. The ZonNext Foundation organizes the match between the inspected panels and a suitable applicant via the online platform. The costs ultimately charged for the solar panels mainly consist of costs incurred during the inspection of the panels. As a result, the costs of solar panels via ZonNext are lower than the costs of new solar panels. As soon as the link between the inspected panels and the applicant has been made, the applicant will be put in touch with one of the certified installation companies ZonNext works with. These companies then ensure that the panels are installed in a certified manner. Although Zonnext recommends installation via these partners, it is also possible to arrange the installation by consumers themselves (Zonnext, 2021, 2022). The entire process is visualized below:
3. Value Capture: The value is captured based on the sales refund that cover the inspection, transport and installation of the solar panels. Partners use a reduced hourly fee.
Strategies for degrowth/ sufficiency (based on sufficiency strategies from Niessen & Bocken, 2021):
- Green alternative & Reuse: by working only with reused solar panels, stimulating the extension of product lifetimes.
- Short distance promotion: by using panels within the Netherlands, and refusing raw materials
Business model experimentation practices: Zonnext is a partnership between multiple businesses involved, and comprised intensive network-building activities at the very start. A preliminary value creation & delivery network was set up, and experimentation with taking back the solar panels, inspection, warranty and installation time was done based on effectuation approaches; implementing these panels at people the project partners already knew.
CBS (2021). Hernieuwbare energie in Nederland. Accessed 22-12-2022 at https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/longread/aanvullende-statistische-diensten/2021/hernieuwbare-energie-in-nederland-2020/5-zonne-energie
DNE Research (2022). Dutch Solar Trend Report.
Fair Solar Network (9 December 2021) personal communication Pepik Henneman [email]
Niessen, L., & Bocken, N. M. P. (2021). How can businesses drive sufficiency? The business for sufficiency framework. Sustainable Production and Consumption, 28, 1090-1103. doi:10.1016/j.spc.2021.07.030
Zonnext (2021). Impact report. Accessed 22-12-2022 at https://zonnext.nl/
Zonnext (2022). over-ons. Accessed 22-12-2022 at https://zonnext.nl/over-ons
About project Circular X
Project Circular X is about ‘Experimentation with Circular Service Business Models’. It is an ambitious research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC) which supports top researchers from anywhere in the world. Project CIRCULAR X runs from 2020-2025. The project is led by Principal Investigator (PI) Prof Dr Nancy Bocken, who is joined by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI), Maastricht School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University. The project cooperates with businesses who want to innovate towards the circular economy.
Project Circular X addresses a new and urgent issue: experimentation with circular service business models (CSBMs). Examples of such new business models include companies shifting from selling products to selling services and introducing lifelong warrantees to extend product lifetimes. However, CSBMs are far from mainstream and research focused on experimentation is little understood. The research aims to conduct interdisciplinary research with 4 objectives:
- Advancing understanding of CSBMs; their emergence and impacts
- Advancing knowledge on CSBM experimentation
- Developing CSBM experimentation tools
- Designing and deploying CSBM experimentation labs
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No. 850159.
Using this information
When you cite this publication, please use the following source:
Circular X. (2022) Case study: Zonnext - Solar panel "orphanage". Accessed from www.circularx.eu