How to manage India’s solar PV waste problem?

Source: The post is based on the article “How to manage India’s solar PV waste problem? published in The Hindu on 29th March 2023

What is the News?

There has been a continuous push from policymakers in India to transition to a circular economy and to enable effective waste management.

But waste management in the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector still lacks clear directives.

What is PV waste?

Globally, India has the world’s fourth-highest solar PV deployment. The installed solar capacity was nearly 62GW in November 2022. This signals a huge amount of solar PV waste. 

According to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, India could generate 50,000­ – 3,25,000 tonnes of PV waste by 2030 and more than four million tonnes by 2050.

Is the Solar PV waste recycled or recovered?

A typical PV panel is made of crystalline silicon (c­Si) modules (93%) and cadmium telluride thin film modules (7%).

As these panels near expiration, some portions of the frame are extracted and sold as scrap and some are recycled according to e-waste guidelines. According to a 2021 report, approximately 50% of the total materials can be recovered. 

However, India’s challenge is the growing informal handling of PV waste. Only about 20% of the waste is recovered; the rest is treated informally.

As a result, the waste often accumulates in landfills, which pollutes the surroundings. Incinerating the encapsulant also releases sulfur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere.

What are the gaps in handling PV waste, and how can they be fulfilled?

First, simply clubbing PV waste with other e-­waste could lead to confusion. Instead, India should formulate and implement provisions specific to PV waste treatment within the ambit of the e-waste guidelines. 

– And Central insurance or a regulatory body should be set up to protect against financial losses incurred in waste collection and treatment. 

Second, the waste generated from PV modules and their components is classified as ‘hazardous waste’ in India. To further drive home this label, pan ­India sensitization drives and awareness programs on PV waste management will be beneficial. 

Third, considering that India’s local solar PV ­panel manufacturing is limited, we need to pay more attention to domestic R&D efforts.

– Moreover, domestic development of PV waste recycling technologies must be promoted through appropriate infrastructure facilities and adequate funding.

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