India ramps up solar capacity but lacks a waste handling policy for it

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India ramps up solar capacity but lacks a waste handling policy for it

  • While India ramps up its solar power installation, it does not yet have a firm policy on managing waste that results from used solar panels or from the manufacturing process.
  • Solar waste has currently been considered as a part of electronic waste in India and is not accounted separately

Global status of solar waste

  • International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that the global photovoltaic waste will touch 78 million tonnes by 2050
  • India is expected to be one of the top five photovoltaic-waste creators

Status of solar energy in India

  • India has set a target of producing 100 GW of solar energy by 2022.
  • The cumulative capacity of grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) installations is around 40 GW and of the current capacity, about 35.6 GW
  • It is generated from ground-mounted plants and 4.4 GW from rooftop solar.
  • India’s solar PV manufacturing uses imported components with parts mostly sourced from China.
  • India has a manufacturing capacity of 3GW for solar cells and 15GW for modules
  • It had announced a basic customs duty of 40% on modules and 25% on solar cell imports in the recent budget

Solar waste

  • It is electronic waste generated by discarded solar panels
  • It is sold as scrap in India.
  • It can increase by at least four-five-fold by the next decade.

Policies of other countries for solar waste

  • European Union: The 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.
  • PV manufacturers are solely responsible for the collection, handling and treatment of modules at the end of their lifecycle, according to the WEEE Directive
  • UK: it also has an industry-managed “take-back and recycling scheme”, where all PV producers will need to register and submit data related to products used for the residential solar market (B2C) and non-residential market.
  • US: Washington and California have come up with extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations.
  • Washington now requires PV module manufacturers to finance the take-back and reuse or recycling of PV modules sold within or into the state at no cost to the end-user.
  • Australia: it has also acknowledged the concern 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 PV systems.

Roadmap to resource-efficient solar energy

  • Strong e-waste or renewable energy waste laws: Extended Producer Responsibility for the manufacturer and developers to take responsibility for end-of-life the solar panel.
  • Infrastructure: To bring down the cost of recycling infrastructure investment is required, coordination between the energy and waste sector to efficiently handle the renewable energy waste and build more recycling plants to avoid solar panels ending up in landfills.
  • Environmental disposal and recycling of solar waste could be part of the power purchase agreement SECI / DISCOMS / government signs with project developers.
  • Research and Development: Innovation in design may have an impact on the type of waste they generate; technology advancements will be significant in reducing the impact of renewable energy waste.

Way forward

  • As PV modules had so far likely generated a cumulative waste of nearly 285,000 tonnes in FY21 from the early-life loss of the installed 40 GW grid-connected solar capacity so it will be imprudent to ignore and delay the issue of PV waste management policy in India anymore.