Published on: April 1, 2023
Solar PV waste
Solar PV waste
Why in news? In the last few years been a concerted push from policymakers in India to transition to a circular economy and waste management in the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector lacks clear directives.
What is the status of PV waste in India ?
- Globally, India has the world’s fourth highest solar PV deployment.
- The installed solar capacity was nearly 62GW in November 2022 and augurs a colossal amount of solar PV waste.
- According to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, India could generate 50,000-3,25,000 tonnes of PV waste by 2030 and more than four million tonnes by 2050.
What is PV waste?
- India’s solar PV installations are dominated by crystalline silicon (c-Si)
- A typical PV panel is made of c-Si modules (93%) and cadmium telluride thin-film modules (7%). A c-Si module mainly consists of a glass sheet, an aluminium frame, an encapsulant, a backsheet, copper wires, and silicon wafers.
- Silver, tin, and lead are used to make c-Si modules. The thin-film module is made of glass, encapsulant, and compound semiconductors.
Is this waste recovered or recycled?
- As these panels near expiration, some portions of the frame are extracted and sold as scrap, junctions and cables are recycled according to e-waste guidelines.
- The glass laminate is partly recycled and the rest is disposed of as general waste.
- Silicon and silver can be extracted by burning the module in cement furnaces.
- According to a 2021 report, approximately 50% of the total materials can be recovered.
- India’s challenge is the growing informal handling of PV waste and about 20% of the waste is recovered in general the rest is treated informally.
- The waste often accumulates at landfills, which pollute the surroundings. Incinerating the encapsulant also releases sulphur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere.
What are the gaps?
- Simply clubbing PV waste with other e-waste could lead to confusion. Instead, India should formulate and implement provisions specific to PV waste treatment within the ambit of the e-waste guidelines.
- Central insurance or a regulatory body should be set up to protect against financial losses incurred in waste collection and treatment.
- The waste generated from PV modules and their components is classified as ‘hazardous waste’ in India. To further drive home this label, pan-India sensitisation drives and awareness programmes on PV waste management will be beneficial.
- Considering that India’s local solar PV-panel manufacturing is limited, we need to pay more attention to domestic R&D efforts.
- Depending on a single module type will dis-uniformly deplete certain natural resources and stunt the local capacity for recycling and recovery of critical materials.
- The domestic development of PV waste recycling technologies must be promoted through appropriate infrastructure facilities and adequate funding.
Why should India act now?
- Considering the rate at which these panels are being installed around the country, India is expected to generate an enormous amount of waste over the next 20 years.
- In fact, India is expected to become one of the top five leading photovoltaic waste producers worldwide by 2050.
- Now is the right time for it to install clear policy directives, well-established recycling strategies, and greater collaboration, so that it doesn’t find itself caught unprepared against a new problem in the future.