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Circular economy could support India’s push for clean energy, self-reliance

The recovery of valuable raw materials from end-of-life solar panels and batteries presents a great opportunity for India to secure future supplies as the nation chases its ambitious renewable energy targets.

From pv magazine India

With approximately 44 GW of installed PV capacity and 40 GW of installed wind capacity as of July – against a 450 GW renewables target for 2030 – the time has arrived for India to start creating an ecosystem to recycle solar panels and other electric components, said Saloni Sachdeva Michael, a consultant and the author of a newly released report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

The adoption of a “circular” approach to managing end-of-life solar PV modules, wind blades, and batteries would reduce future wastage of the high-value, critical raw materials needed for India’s massive clean energy transition, according to the IEEFA report.

The report notes that India does not yet have a dedicated renewable waste management and recycling policy. It calls for a national framework to be developed for domestic recycling of solar PV components, in particular.

Moving from a linear, “make-use-dispose” model to one built on circular principles, where resources are reused and recycled, could accelerate the decarbonization of the economy, cut waste, and reduce dependency on imports of raw materials for domestic solar module manufacturing, said IEEFA.

“Decarbonization based on circular principles is an opportunity to optimize usage of local resources, which would reduce dependency on imports. It would also reduce the amount of carbon emitted from raw materials used in the manufacture of wind, solar, and battery components and minimize waste,” it said. 

The potential value created by the recovery of raw materials from solar panels throughout the world could reach $450 million by 2030 and $15 billion by 2050, according to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates cited in the report.

Main recommendations 

To make recycling a reality, India will need to take steps to overcome challenges such as how to make solar panel recycling economical. All stakeholders – including policymakers, regulators, manufacturers, assemblers, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) players, financiers, and consumers – need to work together to reduce the costs of recycling, said Sachdeva Michael.

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The growth of solar panel recycling can create new jobs, domestic supply chain stability, and ancillary markets that utilize the recycled materials in other products.

“The biggest barriers to implementation are lack of incentives for developers and consumers to give away used solar panels, absence of a structured policy or regulation that defines the ownership of the end-of-life panels and the cost of transporting the panels to the recycling plant,” said Sachdeva Michael.

The report outlines recommendations in four key areas to encourage circular principles:

Policy and regulatory clarity – The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) must work to establish standards for PV waste collection, treatment, and disposal. Developers and manufacturers must be encouraged to include the cost of decommissioning and recycling of PV panels in the bidding process, in power purchase agreements, and in operation and maintenance negotiations. Further, government tenders and contracts must include clear directions for the treatment and disposal of existing panels.

Producer Responsibility Organizations (PRO) – A program to strengthen the capacity of PROs should include renewables waste collection, segregation, dismantling, and recycling. 

Circular supply chain and inventory – The MNRE and MoEFCC need to track and monitor PV installations and their performance to quantify the number of panels reaching end of life. One key solution is to create storage spaces for degraded panels instead of throwing them into landfills. 

Innovative finance – There is a need to develop ancillary markets and pricing mechanisms for recycled products. India needs to create a mechanism for the adoption of environmental, social and governance frameworks to enable domestic manufacturers to attract green finance to set up recycling plants.

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Source: pv magazine