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  • Context (IE): A new study found that India produced about 100 kilotonnes (kt) of solar waste in FY 2022-2023.
  • The analysis was conducted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and researchers from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).
  • India’s current solar capacity is 66.7 GW as of March 2023, and it is projected to reach 292 GW by 2030.
  • Proper management of solar waste is essential for environmental, economic, and social reasons.

What is Solar Waste?

  • Solar waste includes waste from manufacturing solar modules and waste generated during the lifetime of solar projects.
  • Manufacturing waste includes scrap and waste from defective PV modules.
  • Waste from the field includes waste from transportation and handling, damage during the module’s lifetime, and end-of-life disposal.
  • The study specifically examined waste from the field category and did not consider manufacturing waste.

Findings of the study

  • By 2030, India’s installed solar capacity will generate about 340 kt of waste, three times more than the present.
  • Five states, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh are expected to produce around 67% of this waste.
  • The cumulative waste from existing and new capacity deployed between FY24 and FY30 will reach about 600 kt by 2030.
  • It will increase to about 19,000 kt by 2050, with 77% of it generated from new capacities.
  • Discarded solar modules contain critical minerals such as silicon, copper, tellurium, and cadmium. These minerals are classified as critical for India’s economic development and national security.
  • The 340 kt of waste expected by 2030 will include 10 kt of silicon, 12-18 tonnes of silver, and 16 tonnes of cadmium and tellurium.

How to treat Solar Waste?

  • Policymakers need to maintain a comprehensive database of installed solar capacity to estimate future solar waste.
  • Need to incentivise recyclers and encourage stakeholders to manage solar waste effectively.
  • Need to create a market for solar recycling.
  • Recycling solar panels:
    • Conventional recycling involves mechanical processes like crushing and shearing, which mainly recovers materials like glass, aluminium, and copper.
    • High-value recycling uses mechanical, chemical, and thermal processes to recover valuable materials like silver and silicon in addition to conventional recyclables.
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