Time’s running out: Will India be ready to handle the 35,000 tonnes of solar waste by 2030?

India is implementing the world's largest clean energy programme, with the goal of generating 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022, including 100 GW of solar energy, and 280 GW by 2030. Despite the fact that India's per capita emissions are one-third those of the rest of the world, the country has been expanding its green portfolio. India is on track to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions targets for non-fossil fuel electricity generation and emission reductions.

With India's ambitious target of 280 GW of solar capacity by 2030, the time has come to develop a sound solar waste management policy.

Solar Panels

While India does not have a policy for solar waste management, it does have ambitious targets for solar energy installation.

In the country, solar waste — electronic waste generated by discarded solar panels — is sold as scrap. It has the potential to more than quadruple in the next decade. India should prioritise the development of comprehensive rules for the management of solar waste.

The issue was not addressed in the 2016 regulations on electronic waste management. SolarPower Europe and PVCycle, with support from the European Union in India and the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, estimate that India could generate over 34,600 tonnes of cumulative solar waste by 2030.

Solar panels have a lifespan of 20-25 years, so the issue of waste appears to be a distant concern. By the end of this decade, India is likely to face solar waste problems, and solar waste will quickly become the most prevalent type of waste in landfills.

As a result, it is critical that a policy be developed quickly.

While photovoltaics generate less than 3% of global electricity, they consume 40% of the world's tellurium, 15% of the world's silver, a significant amount of semiconductor-grade quartz, and smaller but still significant amounts of indium, zinc, tin, and gallium.

Solar energy is holistic in nature, encompassing not only a green and clean perspective, but also resource and material management.

With 93 and 7% market shares, respectively, crystallised silicon (C-Si) and thin-film (primarily cadmium telluride, CdTe) are the two most popular module technologies in India. Both technologies have an 85-90 percent recovery rate.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the market value of raw materials recovered from solar panels could reach $450 million by 2030.

In other words, this quantity of raw materials is roughly equivalent to the amount required to construct 60 million new solar panels or to generate 18 GW of electricity.

By 2050, the value of recoverable materials may exceed $15 billion, enough to power 630 GW with two billion solar panels. Globally, it is anticipated that solar panel end-of-life (EoL) will drive the solar panel recycling industry for the next 10-20 years.

Therefore, why aren't we recycling more?

The significant cost differential between recycling and landfilling panels reveals an unpleasant truth: the process generates approximately $3 in revenue from the recovery of certain materials.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, recycling a solar panel costs between $20 and $30; sending it to a landfill costs between $1 and $2.

How are other countries addressing the issue of solar waste?

The EU is clearly ahead of other regions when it comes to framing and implementing policies for managing photovoltaic waste. The EU's WEEE Directive imposes responsibility for waste disposal on manufacturers or distributors who introduce or install such equipment for the first time.

According to the WEEE Directive, PV manufacturers are solely responsible for the collection, handling, and treatment of modules at the end of their useful lives.

Currently, the majority of EU member states have adopted directives on the collection, handling, and management of photovoltaic waste.

Additionally, the UK has an industry-managed "take-back and recycling scheme," under which all photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers must register and submit data on products used in the residential solar market (B2C) and non-residential solar market.

While there are no federal statutes or regulations addressing recycling in the United States, some states have proactively defined policies to address end-of-life photovoltaic module management.

Washington and California have enacted regulations establishing extended producer responsibility (EPR). Washington now requires PV module manufacturers to cover the cost of taking back and reusing or recycling PV modules sold within or into the state.

Additionally, New Jersey and North Carolina both passed legislation in 2019 to study and explore PV module management options, which will aid in the development of future legislation.

The federation In Australia, the government recognised the issue and announced a $2 million grant as part of the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund to develop and implement an industry-led product stewardship scheme for photovoltaic systems.

The scheme is expected to foster shared responsibility across the supply chain for managing the impact of photovoltaic modules throughout their life cycle and to foster the development of an efficient and innovative domestic photovoltaic recycling industry.

Countries such as Japan and South Korea have already expressed their intention to enact dedicated legislation to address the problem of photovoltaic waste.

India requires a three-pronged approach to deal with the massive amount of photovoltaic waste it will generate over the next decade.

Solar energy as a resource-efficient source of energy

-Strong e-waste or renewable energy waste laws: EPR requiring solar panel manufacturers and developers to assume responsibility for solar panel end-of-life. PV modules were the first type of waste to be regulated under the EU's WEEE directive. It discusses financing options for waste management.

-Infrastructure: To reduce the cost of recycling, coordination between the energy and waste sectors is required to efficiently manage renewable energy waste and to expand recycling plants to avoid solar panels ending up in landfills.

-PV Cycle was founded by module manufacturers to provide regional compliance services to its members. First Solar, a manufacturer of photovoltaic modules based in the United States, operates its own thin-film recycling facility.

-Solar waste management and recycling could be included in the power purchase agreements SECI / DISCOMS / government enter into with project developers.

-Solar panel waste is hazardous to the environment because it contains toxic metals and minerals that may leach into the ground.

-To encourage the recycling industry to participate more actively, new business models, incentives, or the issuance of green certificates will be implemented.

Research and Development: Design innovation may have an effect on the type of waste generated by renewable energy systems; technological advancements will be critical in reducing the impact of renewable energy waste. For instance, new panels consume less silicon and generate less waste during the manufacturing process.


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