India has committed to get 40 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030. This commitment came at the Paris Agreement. Going great lengths, India has already achieved the 40 per cent mark in November 2021 itself.
As of November 30, 2021, data, India is standing at 6th rank worldwide in installed solar energy capacity of 48.56 GW. Indeed, the solar photovoltaics sector in India has been growing with rapidly falling tariffs, subsidies from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), 100% FDI through the automatic route, and performance-linked incentives for high-efficiency photovoltaic modules manufacturing.
THE OTHER SIDE
Though the government has promoted solar energy to India’s low-carbon energy transition, the rapid diffusion of PV technology has been unregulated. The photovoltaic waste has been unregulated.
It is generated in 2 forms: Primary waste comprises of waste produced directly from solar panels before and end of life.
Secondary waste is generated during fabrication and disposal of balance system such as inverter, wires and mounting structure.
Though the average life span is 20-25 years they are often disposed of well before this time. This is because of the transportation damage, soiling, faulty manufacturing, poor maintenance and harsh weather.
Given India’s considerable solar energy target, studies have indicated that the volume of solar photovoltaic waste is projected to reach 200,000 tonnes a year by 2030 and grow almost 10x to 1.8 million tonnes by 2050. These are big numbers, and anticipate a considerable challenge to India’s sustainable energy transition.
The secondary waste includes components that have a lifespan of 3-10 years and will contribute to an additional high-volume stream of toxic substance and e-waste down the line causing environmental hazards.
The country doesn’t have any specific regulations to dispose and recycle solar photovoltaic waste. The only reference to solar waste is in the MNRE guidelines. The ministry directed the Central Pollution Control Board to amend the 2016 E-waste Rules to include antimony in the ‘hazardous substances’ category (rule 16), with indirect consequences for the management of solar modules containing antimony.
MNRE has also accepted that India currently doesn’t have facilities to recycle solar panels containing antimony, but has shifted the onus to industry actors, once an adequate amount of photovoltaic waste becomes available to recycle.
But curiously, the 2016 E-waste Rules don’t consider solar modules themselves to be e-waste, leaving the disposal and management of end-of-life solar technologies in a limbo.
If this gap between waste production and handling persists, India’s energy transition story could soon turn into an environmental nightmare.