Recycle

By Subhash Yadav
22 Aug 2023

Solar Waste Recycling: An Opportunity For India.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has added the solar modules and solar cells under the e-Waste Management Rules 2022 thereby fixing responsibility of the producers in terms of storing solar industry waste, filing regular returns, disclosing the panel and cell inventory separately and complying with the CPCB guidelines. The move is widely expected to lead to higher awareness, tracking and of course recycling of solar panels as they pass through their life cycle.

With India set to employ the third biggest solar energy infrastructure globally, even after accounting for an average life of a panel between 20 and 25 years, the recycling need for solar waste is not in the distant future anymore. Add to that the scenario where many developers have complained about substandard quality panels and India requires a strong recycling industry to protect its natural environment from solar industry waste. It’s an apt time for the country to turn this growing challenge into an opportunity. Much like the way India is trying to turn its lithium dependency into self sufficiency with a major recycling push there.

India can build it a new industry altogether and many have begun to see it as a ‘Sunrise’ one. According to an industry estimate, the solar waste recycling business will surpass $15 billion by the middle of this century and help generate another 600 GW plus green energy.

The raw material extraction from the earth results in heavy pollution. All basic elements in a solar panel – silicon, silver, tellurium, quartz, glass, alumina and plastic – are themselves a highly polluting industry and recycling of their waste will put substantial breaks to air, water and soil pollution. Greenhouse gases additions will be reduced into the atmosphere that happen due to the cell or panel manufacturing.

Recycling of solar waste will help in import substitution and enhance the self-reliance or Atmanirbhar Bharat’ saving precious forex reserves. The recycling industry by nature is labour intensive. Hence, employment generation of both technical and non-technical manpower is an added attraction in solar waste recycling expansion. 

Technology Transfer And Development

Even recycling is done best when it uses minimum energy and extracts the highest amount of materials for recycling. In this respect, where required, India has a strong case to seek technology transfers from Europe or the US, or allow its startups to seek partners to do this best. In the long term, the possibility of becoming recycling hub for an ever larger market is not as remote as it looks right now. Reaching recycling rates of 90% and above at a low enough cost and environment impact will also create grounds for faster repowering of old solar plants before their end of life. This could possibly lead to higher power generation from the same patch of land, or use of much less land for the same amount of power generation. Consider how some of the oldest plants have panels with a rated output of 170-230 Watt even, when panels with output rating of 540 Watt to 650 Watt have become common today.

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