Why The Solar Industry Needs To Push For A Circular Economy

Highlights :

  • For the solar sector, particularly manufacturers, being alive to the challenge of recycling is a must, for long term sustainability. Here, Bharat Bhut , Director at Goldi Solar shares his vision for the future of recycling.
Why The Solar Industry Needs To Push For A Circular Economy
Bharat Bhut, Cofounder & Director, Goldi Solar

By Bharat Bhut, Co-Founder And Director, Goldi Solar

The latest IPCC report shows greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts. This can be largely attributed to the “Linear Economy” practice instead of finding answers to adopting the ‘Circular Economy’. In short, we practice what is called as “Throw away” culture.

Solar Recycling

Solar Recycling Needs Focus Now To Be a Reality

An International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report has estimated that the value of recovered raw materials from solar panels could increase cumulatively up to US$ 450 million by 2030. This is equivalent to the amount of raw materials currently needed to produce approximately 60 million new solar panels or about 18 GWp. By 2050, the value of recoverable materials could cumulatively exceed US$ 15 billion, equivalent to about 2 billion panels, or 630 GWp. This report advocates that “PV recycling will be essential in the world’s transition to a sustainable, economically viable and increasingly renewables-based energy future. To unlock the benefits of such PV end-of-life industries, the institutional groundwork must be laid in time to meet the expected surge in panel waste. Policy action is needed to address the challenges ahead, with enabling frameworks being adapted to the needs and circumstances of each region or country”.

With increasing focus on solar energy and subsequent capacity addition, the PV solar sector is growing rapidly. India has an ambitious solar energy program. The Installed solar energy has recently surpassed 50 GW. At COP26, in November 2021, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India announced India’s plan to increase its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030. It is expected that about 250-300 GW of this would come from solar PV. As everywhere else in the world, the prodigious penetration of PV technology in India will generate waste. Therefore, it is very important to practice an effective way to dispose of the panel after its life.

As per a 2019 report from Bridge to India, PV waste volume in India is estimated to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050. The two most popular module technologies in India are crystallised silicon (C-Si) and thin-film (mainly cadmium telluride, CdTe), with 93 and 7 percent market shares respectively. Both the technologies have a recovery rate of 85-90 percent, which is quite a good percentage.

In the context of Solar PV, circular economy principles would allow for effective handling of wastes and recovery of valuable materials, which can be reused in new products. Environmental and economic benefits are the key motivations for adopting circular economy principles for PV modules in India. On the environmental front, recycling of materials from PV modules can reduce hazardous waste, and reduce constraints on sourcing of virgin materials. The reuse of recovered PV module material reduces lifecycle environmental impacts by reducing the energy output, costs, and environmental pollutants associated with mining, transporting, and refining virgin materials, and manufacturing and distributing new PV modules.

However, efforts should be made to implement a viable PV waste management law by the government of India. Governments need to identify the responsibility model for all the stakeholder in the system. Decisions on the allocation of responsibility should be made in view of the policy goals, product characteristics, market dynamics, actors in the product chain, and resources needed to implement the policy. The government and local authorities, the retailer, the consumer, and the final owner of the waste all play important roles under EPR (extended producer responsibility)

A parallel effort is also required in ensuring that home-grown recycling technologies are nurtured, incentivized and promoted. Government-funded research is necessary to identify and develop module recycling technologies and its allied infrastructure.

We cannot afford to waste more time by not thinking about solar waste. With our ambitious targets, strong government resolve, resilient industry and a vibrant PV ecosystem, India as a country has a really good opportunity to show both the developed world and the developing world how to handle PV waste efficiently. This would pave the way for suitable future with a greener energy

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