India Growing Solar Power Programme Could Leave Behind a Trail of Waste

Solar power may promise a bright future for India energy requirements, but behind the sheen is a growing mountain of waste. While the national government is pushing an ambitious solar power programme for India, it has, so far, failed to put in a mechanism to address the problem of waste, including environmentally hazardous materials, from solar photovoltaic panels that can be hazardous to the environment.

A recent report by renewable energy consulting firm Bridge to India (BTI) said that the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels waste volume in India is estimated to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030 and around 1.8 million tonnes by 2050  almost 200 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.

India current solar power target is 100,000 megawatts (100 gigawatts) by 2022, raised from 20,000 MW in June 2015 by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. This 100-gigawatt target includes 40 GW rooftop and 60 GW through large and medium grid-connected solar power projects and India has advanced towards this target with the installed solar power capacity increasing from 2,631.93 MW in March 2014 to 28,180.71 MW in March 2019.

However, this also means the amount of solar panel waste has increased during this time, with cases of early retirement of the panels. The lifetime of each PV panel is usually 20-25 years. Panels may be discarded earlier because of site accidents and poor quality.

As per MNRE, it is estimated that for each MW of solar power, 75 MT (metric tonne) of PV modules are needed.

BTI report explains that a solar photovoltaic panel is essentially made up of glass, metal, silicon and polymer fractions. While glass and aluminium, together constituting around 80 percent of the total weight, are non-hazardous, a few other materials used in the panel, like polymers, lead and cadmium compounds, are potentially environmentally hazardous.