India’s dream of energizing the nation with Solar Power leaves behind a massive trail of Waste

Solar Panel

Electricity requirement of India is increasing rapidly with the growth of the country and the growth of Electricity availability since 2014 under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi.

India’s current target of producing 100,000 megawatts (100 gigawatts) by 2022 elevated from 20,000 MW in June 2015, includes 60 GW through large and medium grid-connected solar power projects and 40 GW through rooftop operation.

As of March 2019, India is producing 28,180.71 MW which was just 2,631.93 MW in March 2014. A report from the Bridge to India (BTI) declared that the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels waste volume in India is estimated to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050 – almost 200 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.

The attempt to fulfill the heavy energy requirement with the most sustainable method is the use of Solar Power and it seems a bright future for the country, but this growth for energy production using Sun’s energy comes in with a huge amount of waste that is produced by solar photovoltaic panels that contain environmentally hazardous materials.

Solar Panels and it’s material

A Solar Photovoltaic Panel is essentially made up of glass, metal, silicon and polymer parts. While glass and aluminum, together with compounds around 80 percent of the total weight, are non-hazardous, but a few other materials used in the panel, like polymers, lead and cadmium compounds, are potentially environmentally hazardous.

A recent report from renewable energy consulting firm Bridge to India (BTI) notes that if discarded in an uncontrolled way, potential leaking of those hazardous materials at end-of-life can have negative environmental and health impacts.

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The report also notes that “Leaching of lead has a huge environmental impact—loss in biodiversity, decreased growth and reproductive rates in plants and animals, and several other health hazards—adverse impact on kidney function, nervous, immune, reproductive and cardiovascular systems. Cadmium is a carcinogen with high toxicity as well as high accumulation potential in humans,”.

India’s approach to the Solar Power waste

The report explains that currently there are almost zero policies for Solar Power Waste Management. Surbhi Singhvi of BTI told Mongabay-India that “right now there is no policy to deal with the waste from the solar sector in India.”

“Solar waste just finds a mention in one place – the tender documents (of solar projects) – wherein it is said that the solar power developers are responsible to dispose the waste in line with the electronic waste rules. But the e-waste rules make no mention of the solar panel waste. So, it is no one’s responsibility,” added Singhvi.

Update: A recent study by Ian Peters and Tonio Buonassisi at MIT shows that climate change (Rise in Temperature) will make solar power generation using Silicon PV cells less efficient.

A senior official of the Indian government Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), while wishing anonymity, admitted that the problem of waste from solar industry is on their radar now.

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“There is no national policy addressing this issue as of now. But we are working on it. Soon there may be a national regulation to tackle this problem,” added the official of MNRE.

Is Recycling a sensible option?

The report of BTI also explains that recycling of the Solar Panel Waste is not a perfect solution as with the current technology of recycling only 70% of the Solar Panel material is recovered and with using the advanced recycling technology most materials other than glass, aluminum, and copper are usually not retrieved and must be incinerated or landfilled.

Since Solar Panels consist of high-value materials like Silver and solar-grade silicon in very short amount and these material requires advanced technology to be scraped out of the solar panels which is very low than the money invested for scrapping than selling it to recycle.

Sustainable Growth also requires a sustainable method of waste management. We thank Mongabay India from we sourced our content.

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