SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC WASTE MANAGEMENT

Waste management in the solar photovoltaic (PV) sector still lacks clear directives.

What is PV waste?

  • Globally, India has the world’s fourth highest solar PV deployment.
  • The installed solar capacity was nearly 62GW in 2022.
  • 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 it consist of?

  • India’s solar PV installations are dominated by crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology.
  • 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.

Challenges for India

  • India’s challenge is the growing informal handling of PV waste.
  • Only about 20% of the waste is recovered in general, the rest is treated informally.
  • As a result, 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.
  • India needs to surmount significant collection, storage, recycling, and repurposing challenges.
  • The market to repurpose or reuse recycled PV waste is minuscule in India due to a lack of suitable incentives and schemes in which businesses can invest.

Way forward:

  • 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.
  • A 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.

Conclusion:

  • 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.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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