Time’s Running out-Is India ready to handle 34,600 tonnes of solar waste?

News: India plans to generate about 280 GW of energy through solar power by 2030. While this may seem a climate smart move but it also leads to generation of huge amount of solar waste. 

A holistic approach to solar energy includes not only a green and clean perspective, but also resource and material management.  

Why India needs a solar waste management policy? 

Discarded solar panels generate solar waste which is usually then sold as scrap. According to some estimates it can increase by at least four-five-fold by the next decade.  

According to a report prepared by the National Solar Energy Federation of India, Country is expected to generate 34,600 Tonnes of cumulative solar waste by 2030. 

Although India has set ambitious solar power installation targets, it does not have a solar waste management policy. Even the latest electronic waste management regulations of 2016 do not deal with the issue. 

What are the challenges in the management of solar waste? 

Not seen as an immediate problem-Solar panels have a life of 20-25 years, so the problem of waste seems distant.  

However, this may become a major issue at the end of this decade, and solar waste will end up being the most prevalent form of waste in landfills.  

High recycling cost-Although the solar panels have valuable recoverable materials, which if recovered would be enough to power 630 GW with two billion solar panels.  

However, this option is not viable as the benefit from recycling is far less compared to the cost of it. Recycling a solar panel cost between $20 and $30 while sending it to a landfill costs $1-2. 

How are other countries handling the issue? 

Europe-Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of the EU imposes responsibility for the disposal of waste on the manufacturers or distributors who introduce or install such equipment for the first time. 

Most of the EU member states have come up with directives for collecting, handling and management of PV waste. 

USA-While there are no country wide regulations in the United States, there are some states who have proactively defined policies to address end-of-life PV module management. 

Asia-Countries such as Japan and South Korea have already indicated their resolve to come up with dedicated legislation to address the PV waste problem.  

What is the way forward?             

Following approach may help to deal with the problem holistically- 

Strong e-waste or renewable energy waste laws: There is a need for introduction of EPR(Extended Producer’s Responsibility) for the manufacturer and developers to take responsibility for end-of-life the solar panel. India should also focus its attention on drafting comprehensive rules to deal with solar waste. 

Infrastructure: Good recycling infrastructure will help in reducing the cost of recycling. 

Power purchase agreement Between DISCOMS / government and project developers should include rules for environmental disposal and recycling of solar waste.  

It is imperative to ensure that the Solar panel waste does not reach landfills as it is harmful to the environment. It contains toxic metals and minerals that may seep in the ground. 

Recycling Industry should be incentivised to participate more through new business models, green certificates. 

Research and Development: Innovation in design may have an impact on the type of waste they generate. For example-New panels use less silicon and produce less waste during the manufacturing process. 

Source– This post is based on the article “Time’s Running out-Is India ready to handle 34,600 tonnes of solar waste?” published in Down to earth on 13th Jan 2022 

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