General Studies Paper 3

Context: Despite the efforts of Indian policymakers to transition to a circular economy, there is currently a lack of clear directives for waste management in the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry.

What is PV Waste?

  • Photo-Voltaic waste is the electronic waste generated by discarded solar panels. PV waste may contain hazardous materials, including heavy metals such as cadmium, copper, lead, antimony, and selenium.
  • PV waste are sold as scraps in India. It can increase by at least four-five-fold by the next decade. India should focus its attention on drafting comprehensive rules to deal with solar waste.
  • Composition of Solar PV:
    • India’s solar PV installations are dominated by crystalline silicon (c-Si) technology. A typical PV panel is made of c-Si modules (93%) and cadmium telluride thin-film modules (7%).
      • c-Si module mainly consists of a glass sheet, an aluminum frame, an encapsulant, a back sheet, copper wires, and silicon wafers.Silver, tin, and lead are used to make c-Si modules. The thin-film module is made of glass, encapsulant, and compound
    • Status of India in PV Waste:
      • Globally, India has the world’s fourth-highest solar PV deployment. The installed solar capacity was nearly 62GW in November 2022. This leads to a huge amount of solar PV waste.
      • According to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, India could generate 50,000-3,25,000 Tonnes of PV waste by 2030 and more than four million Tonnes by 2050.

Can this Waste be Recovered or Recycled?

  • As PV panels near expiration, some portions of the frame are extracted and sold as scrap, and junctions and cables are recycled according to e-waste guidelines.
  • The glass laminate is partly recycled, while silicon and silver can be extracted by burning the module in cement furnaces. However, approximately 50% of the total materials can be recovered, and only about 20% of the waste is recovered in general, with the rest being treated informally.
  • This growing informal handling of PV waste has led to waste accumulation at landfills, polluting the surroundings.Incinerating the encapsulant also releases sulphur dioxide, hydrogen fluoride, and hydrogen cyanide into the atmosphere.

What are the Challenges in Managing PV Waste in India?

  • Informal Handling of PV Waste:
    • Despite some portions of the PV panels being extracted and recycled, a significant portion of the waste is treated informally, leading to the accumulation of waste in landfills and polluting the surroundings.
  • Limited Market for Reusing Recycled PV Waste:
    • The market to reuse recycled PV waste is currently extremely small in India due to a lack of suitable incentives and schemes in which businesses can invest.
      • The lack of central insurance or regulatory body to protect against financial losses incurred in waste collection and treatment.
    • Lack of Specific Guidelines for PV Waste Treatment:
      • Simply clubbing PV waste with other e-waste could lead to confusion, and there is a need for specific provisions to be formulated and implemented within the ambit of the e-waste guidelines.
        • Need for specific provisions for PV waste treatment within e-waste guidelines to avoid confusion.
      • Hazardous Waste Classification:
        • The waste generated from PV modules and their components is classified as ‘hazardous waste’ in India.
          • Conducting awareness campaigns and sensitization programs about managing PV waste can help people understand the importance of properly handling hazardous waste. This will encourage more people to participate in proper waste management and disposal practices.
        • Limited Local Solar PV-panel Manufacturing:
          • India needs to pay more attention to domestic R&D efforts as depending on a single module type will dis-uniformly deplete certain natural resources and stunt the local capacity for recycling and recovery of critical materials. The domestic development of PV waste recycling technologies must be promoted through appropriate infrastructure facilities and adequate funding.

What are India’s Initiatives?

  • Draft EPR Notification: Plastic Packaging Waste.
  • Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021.
  • E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016.
  • E-waste (Management) Amendment Rules, 2018.
  • Central Pollution Control Board.

Why should India Act now?

  • India is expected to generate a vast amount of PV waste over the next 20 years, making it one of the top five leading photovoltaic waste producers worldwide by 2050.
    • Therefore, India needs to install clear policy directives, well-established recycling strategies, and greater collaboration to prepare for this new challenge. By addressing the gaps in PV waste management, India can achieve its goal of a circular economy and effective waste management while promoting sustainable development.
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