A preliminary analysis by the Energy, Environment and Water Council (CEEW) estimated 1,359 tonnes of waste by the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year from the current solar capacity of 40 gigawatts (GW).
“Interestingly, this corresponds to a ‘regular loss scenario’, where waste is created from the stipulated end-of-life loss. The full capacity would be withdrawn in 2046 and the cumulative waste created would be around 2.6 million tonnes, ”said Akanksha Tyagi, Research Analyst, CEEW. ETEnergyWorld.
Solar panels have a useful lifespan of 25 years and with rapid technological improvements, many modules are likely to be replaced before the end of their lifespan, ultimately compounding the problem.
However, India’s installed solar capacity is still young, as of January 31, 2021, the total installed solar capacity stood at 38,794 MW.
Sangeetha Suresh, Senior Director – Consulting, Bridge to India, said the annual volume of PV waste in India is expected to reach 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050.
“While large volumes of waste will only start to accumulate from 2025, it is imperative to plan ahead to ensure safe and economically viable management means,” she added.
The Ministry of Renewable Energy is developing a policy for the safe disposal of solar modules.
According to industry experts, there have been no monumental efforts to manage solar waste in India. Interim measures have been taken by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energies and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, but an effective policy framework in line with European standards still needs to be developed.
“So far, very little has been done in the absence of a clear recycling policy and environmental standards. Photovoltaic waste is not even covered by any current regulations concerning the management of hazardous waste or solid waste… In the absence of such a policy, there are no specialized treatment facilities for the treatment of photovoltaic waste. Suresh said.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energies has started to draft a policy specifically for the safe disposal of solar modules on which consultations will be held with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Later, it will be open for stakeholder discussions to incorporate best practices and research contributions from global experts.
A PV module is made up of fractions of glass, metal, silicon and polymer. Glass and aluminum together make up about 80 percent of the total weight and are not hazardous. However, other materials, including polymers, metals, metal compounds, and alloys, are potentially hazardous.
Recycling PV modules is still not commercially viable, according to a report from Bridge to India. The total estimated cost, including transportation, can vary between $ 400 and $ 600 per tonne, far exceeding the value of the material recovered.
He added that the waste is usually sent to laminated glass and metal recyclers who recover 70-80% of the material by weight. Advanced recycling technologies can potentially push that figure up to 92 percent.
Experts ask if there are enough incentives to encourage renewable energy companies to turn to recycling, as the cost is prohibitive, especially given the business pressures facing the sector.
“Recycling and disposal of solar modules has the potential to become a bigger problem… There will certainly be a time when millions of obsolete solar modules will be ready to be disposed of and recycled after they have completed their useful life of 25. years, ”said Pinaki Bhattachaya, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Amp Energy India.
He said the government needs to plan and implement a strong recycling policy especially for solar modules.
According to Rashmi Shringi, vice president, operations and maintenance, Amplus Solar, since the amount of electronic waste from solar modules is very low compared to other sources of electronic waste, it has not become a common problem. .
“By 2040, facilities after 2010 will begin to reach the end of their lifecycle and before that, e-waste is expected to be in the range of a few hundred kilotons until 2030, and that’s only after 2040 gigawatt-scale waste will become a problem, ”added Shringi.
According to a report by TERI and WRI, in most central tender documents, the responsibility for managing and disposing of PV waste lies with developers, in accordance with the rules on electronic waste (management and treatment ), 2016. These rules, however, make no mention of waste solar panels. The 2016 rules on hazardous and other waste (management and cross-border movement) also do not specify details regarding solar cells and modules.
According to industry experts, it is primarily the government’s responsibility to put in place an appropriate regulatory framework to address this problem.
“Policymakers should establish a mandatory approach, outlining responsible actors and annual collection, recycling and recovery targets. Second, developers should adopt a second life use of damaged or underperforming modules. Third, the solar industry should invest in research around the development of advanced recycling technologies with better material recovery, ”said Tyagi from CEEW.
She added that policymakers can introduce incentives based on goals achieved by producers and sellers such as green certifications.
Apart from this, enforcing and promoting the use of sustainable module design and materials, and specifying the responsibility and accountability of each stakeholder for waste management and treatment are other ways of containing the problem of waste. photovoltaic solar waste.