Since India have ambitious solar power installation targets, it lacks in holding a solar waste management policy.
So, Let us analyse the cause.
What is solar waste?
It is the electronic waste (e-waste) generated by discarded solar panels and Photo-voltaic (PV) devices.
Photovoltaic (PV) devices contain semiconducting materials that convert sunlight into electrical energy.
A single PV device is known as a cell, and these cells are connected together in chains to form larger units known as modules or panels.
As a Hazard for Environment:
Although up to 90% of the components are recyclable, many PV modules contain heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, antimony or selenium, and when they are taken out of service or broken, they may be classified as hazardous waste.
Solar waste generation in India:
Globally, India stands fourth in solar photovoltaic deployment. India’s solar power installed capacity had reached nearly 62 GW by November 2022.
However, it also augurs a colossal amount of solar photovoltaic waste in future.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency report 2016, India could generate 50,000-3, 25,000 tonnes of cumulative photovoltaic waste by 2030 and more than 4 million tonnes by 2050.
India is expected to become one of the top five leading photovoltaic waste producers globally by 2045-2050.
India’s solar photovoltaic installations are dominated by crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology. A typical photovoltaic panel is made up of 93% of c-Si modules and 7% of cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin film modules.
The metals used to manufacture c-Si modules are silver, tin, and lead. The CdTe thin film module is made of glass, encapsulant, and compound semiconductor.
Is this waste recovered or recycled?
According to e-waste guidelines: As these photovoltaic panels reach their end of lives, some portions of the frame are extracted and sold as scrap; junctions and cables are recycled.
According to a 2021 report, approximately 50% of total materials can be recovered through such waste management and recycling processes.
India’s challenge is the growing informal handling of photovoltaic waste. Only about 20% of the waste is recovered in general; the rest is treated informally.
The waste often accumulates at landfills. Landfill disposal in turn causes acidification, leaching of toxic metals (such as lead and cadmium) into the soil, and contaminates the local water.
Gradual incineration of the panel encapsulant also releases sulphur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere.
Global action against solar waste:
Many Western and Asian economies have well-established regulatory guidelines for photovoltaic waste management and are actively investing in building awareness on effective waste management practices.
For example, the European Union’s‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive’ makes producers responsible for safely and responsibly disposing of end-of-life photovoltaic panels.
In the S., states have the freedom to establish their own solar photovoltaic regulatory standards. Its National Renewable Energy Laboratory is also exploring ways to boost the circular economy in the solar photovoltaic sector.
China has introduced an implementation plan for life-cycle management and to improve the resource efficiency of solar photovoltaic panels.
Specific provisions: India should formulate and implement provisions specific to photovoltaic waste treatment within the ambit of the e-waste guidelines. The government should also build a legislative framework to enforce the Extended Producer Responsibility Rules.
Regulatory body: Central insurance or a regulatory body should be set up to protect against financial losses incurred in waste collection and treatment.
Awareness: pan-India sensitisation drives and awareness programmes on photovoltaic waste management will be beneficial. Clear recycling targets and recycling rates in the photovoltaic waste management policy directive will be good as well.
R&D: considering India’s local solar photovoltaic-panel manufacturing is limited, we need to pay more attention to domestic R&D efforts.