End-of-life management of solar PV waste in India

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A new study on end-of-life (EOL) solar PV waste management in India makes PV manufacturers accountable for recycling and recovering the materials at the EOL stage and ensuring their optimum utilization management while advocating participation of all stakeholders to manage this emerging waste stream.

The study proposes an ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) based regulatory framework for efficient and regularised management of India’s EOL solar PV modules after comprehensively evaluating the regulatory strategies adopted by the developed counterparts of the world. The EPR concept, as practiced in Europe, makes producers responsible for developing an efficient take-back system, i.e., collection, storage, transport, recycling, recovery, reclamation, and destruction of solar PVs. 

The study was done by Suresh Jain and Tanya Sharma, both from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Tirupati, along with Anil Kumar Gupta from the National Institute of Disaster Management (under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the government of India).

Current scenario

Around 2.95 billion tons of solar power material (including PVs and balance-of-systems) is estimated to enter India’s electronic-waste stream by 2047, based on an expectation the nation will have deployed 347.5 GW of solar panels by the end of this decade. Given that, EOL solar PV waste management would become an imminent danger for India, requiring a strategic approach for its management.

The study says at present, solar power waste management is a neglected sector in India and follows an unregularised, unscientific and informal approach. Solar waste is currently regarded as general electronic waste under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. There is no mention of solar PVs as a potential waste stream in the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 and Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM), 2016. 

Further, the presence of an informal and illegal sector for managing the e-waste take-back system in India hampers circularity and requires regulation. 

Thus, there is very significant scope for the development of a regularised policy approach to managing this emerging waste stream, which can lead to long-term environmental benefits and the reduction of the resource scarcity challenges of the country, states the study.

Proposed framework

The proposed framework provides for a multi-sector and multistakeholder approach for solar PV waste management by advocating the constitution of two committees: a technical and regulatory committee and an executive management committee. 

The technical and regulatory committee, comprising representatives from relevant central ministries and departments, would be responsible for developing policies in consultation with different partner states to regulate the EOL management of solar PV waste. It would be accountable for ensuring the implementation and functioning of the framework to reduce EOL solar PV waste.

The management committee, constituted either by the PV manufacturers themselves or as a public-private partnership organization comprising manufacturers and the government representatives, will work under the technical and regulatory committee on the execution of EPR. It will be responsible for managing the solar PVs that reach their EOL stage, including collection, storage, transport, recovery, reclamation of PVs from the source, as well as their destruction. The committee will be accountable for repurchasing solar PV modules and developing the transportation systems between end-users and EOL management units for the solar PVs.

The manufacturers would be responsible for financing, reporting, and information sharing with the two committees as in the WEEE directives adopted by the EU for solar PV waste management at EOL. The financing of the entire system would be borne by the management committee, being the extended hand of the manufacturers and importers of solar PV modules in India.

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