GS Paper 3
Context: Solar panels, hailed as a crucial tool in reducing carbon emissions, face the challenge of disposal and replacement as they only last up to 25 years.
What is Solar E-Waste?
Solar e-waste refers to the electronic waste generated by discarded solar panels. As solar panels have a limited lifespan of 20-25 years, their disposal raises concerns about managing the electronic waste they create.
What does Solar Panel consist of?
A PV module is essentially made up of glass, metal, silicon and polymer fractions. Glass and aluminium, together constituting around 80% of total weight, are non-hazardous.
But a few other materials used including polymers, metals, metallic compounds and alloys are classified as potentially hazardous.
- PV module recycling is still not commercially viable
- PV waste recycling is still at a nascent stage globally
- India does not have a solar waste management policy, but it does have ambitious solar power installation targets.
- India’s PV (photovoltaic) waste volume is estimated to grow to 2,00,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 2 million tonnes by 2050.
Issues with Solar E-Waste Management:
|Lack of comprehensive policy||Many countries, including India, lack comprehensive policies and regulations specifically addressing the management of solar e-waste.|
|Increasing volume of solar waste||India could generate over 34,600 tonnes of solar waste by 2030|
|Limited recycling infrastructure||Insufficient recycling plants and infrastructure|
|High cost of recycling||Recycling a solar panel costs between $20 and $30, while landfill disposal costs $1-2|
|Toxic materials in the solar waste||Solar panels contain toxic metals and minerals that can harm the environment when not properly managed|
|Limited awareness and enforcement||Lack of awareness among stakeholders and inadequate enforcement of recycling regulations|
|Landfill disposal||Improper disposal of solar waste in landfills, posing environmental risks|
|Resource wastage||Discarded solar panels contain valuable materials like silver, copper, and semiconductor-grade quartz.|
Various technologies available to extract valuable materials from solar e-waste include:
- Mechanical Shredding: Solar panels can be shredded into small pieces and subsequent separation techniques to recover metals like aluminium and copper.
- Thermal Treatment: Thermal processes, such as pyrolysis and gasification, can be employed to break down solar panels at high temperatures, recovering valuable materials and generating energy-rich gases or liquids.
- Chemical Leaching: Chemical solvents or acids can be used to dissolve and separate valuable metals, such as silver and copper, from the solar panel components.
- Electrochemical Processes: Electrochemical methods can be utilized to selectively extract metals from solar panel components by applying electrical currents or potential differences.
- Automated Robotic Systems: Advanced robotic systems equipped with sensors and artificial intelligence can be used to identify and separate different components of solar panels for efficient material recovery.
Recent Government Initiative:
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change added Solar Waste Treatment under E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2022 in November 2022.
- Green Credit Programme: Launched under the Environmental Protection Act (1986) and announced in the Budget 2022-2023, it aims to promote green growth and sustainable practices.
Solar waste management by other countries
|European Union||Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Directive and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)|
|United Kingdom||Industry-managed take-back and recycling scheme|
|United States||State-level regulations and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations, but no federal law|
|Australia||National Product Stewardship Investment Fund: $2 million grant to develop industry-led PV product stewardship scheme|
|Japan||Voluntary guidelines to ensure proper recycling of solar PV modules have been issued by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA).|
|South Korea||Dedicated legislation to address the PV waste problem|
What India can do to promote solar waste management:
|Mandating module manufacturers to use environmentally sustainable design and materials with end-of-life in mind E.g., Similar to the eco-design initiative of the EU|
|Specifying the liability and responsibility of each stakeholder for waste management and treatment|
|Laying down standards for PV waste collection, treatment, and disposal|
|Encouraging mutual recycling responsibility agreements between module suppliers, project developers, and power purchasers|
|Conducting surveys and assessments of existing recycling facilities to determine their technology capabilities and capacity, identifying areas for improvement|
|Investing in recycling infrastructure to reduce costs, improving coordination between the energy and waste sectors to handle renewable energy waste, establishing more recycling plants|
|Including provisions for environmentally sound disposal and recycling of the solar waste in power purchase agreements signed by SECI/DISCOMS/government with project developers|
|Ban on landfills: Implementing regulations or policies that prohibit the disposal of solar panel waste in landfills|
|Supporting research and development efforts to drive innovation in PV design, reducing waste generation, and advancing technology to mitigate the environmental impact of renewable energy waste|
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is becoming major a domestic and global issue. Discuss the steps that must be taken to ensure the safe disposal of e-waste in the country. (15M)