India to generate 600 kilotons of solar waste by 2030

GS Paper III

News Excerpt:

As India ramps up its renewable energy capacity to achieve net-zero goals, the combined waste generated from its existing and newly installed solar energy infrastructure could reach up to approximately 600 kilotons by 2030.

More about the news:

  • The findings were part of the report ‘Enabling a Circular Economy in India’s Solar Industry – Assessing the Solar Waste Quantum’ which was conducted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a climate think tank.
  • India generated about 100 kilotons (kt) of solar waste in the financial year (FY) 2022-2023.
  • The current solar capacity of India stands at 66.7 GW as of March 2023.
    • It has increased by 23 times in the past 10 years — and is slated to jump to 292 GW of installed solar capacity by 2030. 
  • Therefore, the management of solar waste is crucial for environmental, economic, and social reasons.

What is solar waste?

  • Solar waste refers to the waste generated during the manufacturing of solar modules and waste from the field (project lifetime).
  • Manufacturing involves two streams of waste, including the scrap that’s produced and the waste generated from PV modules failing quality tests. 
  • Meanwhile, waste from the field involves three streams of waste. 
    • One, waste generated during transporting and handling — the damaged modules are considered as waste. 
    • Two, waste produced due to the damage incurred by solar modules during their lifetime. 
    • Three, when the modules reach their end-of-life and are not usable anymore.
  • The study only focused on waste from the field (project lifetime) category and excluded waste generated during manufacturing.

What are the findings of the study?

  • By 2030, India’s current installed solar capacity will generate about 340 kilotons waste — three times more than the present. 
    • Around 67% of this waste is expected to be produced by five states, including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. 
    • This is because these five states currently have more solar capacity than other states and therefore, will produce more solar waste.
    • Out of India’s 500 GW renewable energy target, the majority of the GWs will come from these five renewable energy-rich states.

  • The cumulative waste from existing and new capacity (deployed between FY24 and FY30) will reach about 600 kt by 2030, according to the report.
  • By 2050, it will increase to about 19,000 kt and 77% of which will be generated from new capacities.

  • The discarded modules contain minerals such as silicon, copper, tellurium, and cadmium — which have been classified as critical minerals for the country’s economic development and national security by the Indian government.
    • The 340 kt waste expected to be produced by 2030 would consist of 10 kt of silicon, 12-18 tonnes of silver, and 16 tonnes of cadmium and tellurium.

How to deal with solar waste?

  • The report gave several recommendations for managing solar waste. 
  • Policymakers should maintain a comprehensive database of the installed solar capacity, which would help in estimating solar waste in the following years. 
  • Policymakers should also incentivise recyclers, and push stakeholders to effectively manage the growing solar waste.
  • Recycling of solar waste: There are two broad ways of recycling solar panels. 
    • First is conventional recycling or bulk material recycling, which involves mechanical processes like crushing, sieving, and shearing of the waste.
      • While the majority of recycled materials consist of glass, aluminium, and copper, more valuable materials like silver and silicon cannot be recovered through this method.
    • The other way of recycling is known as high-value recycling. 
      • It involves the use of a combination of mechanical, chemical, and thermal processes to recycle the modules. 
      • Unlike conventional recycling, this method can recover silver and silicon also with the help of chemical processes.

How are other countries handling solar waste?

  • The EU is clearly ahead of other regions in terms of framing and implementing waste management policies for PV waste. 
    • The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of the EU imposes responsibility for the disposal of waste on the manufacturers or distributors who introduce or install such equipment for the first time.
    • Photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers are solely responsible for the collection, handling and treatment of modules at the end of their lifecycle, according to the WEEE Directive.
  • The UK also has an industry-managed “take-back and recycling scheme”.
    • All PV producers will need to register and submit data related to products used for the residential solar market (B2C) and non-residential market.
  • Countries such as Japan and South Korea have already indicated their resolve to come up with dedicated legislation to address the PV waste problem.
  • India needs a multi-pronged approach to handle the mammoth quantum of PV waste it will generate in the next 10 years.


India needs to focus on creating a market for the solar recycling ecosystem. The general understanding is that solar waste occurs only when modules reach their end-of-life, which is around 25 years. However the report points out that there are other ways also through which solar waste is generated. So, this is not the problem of the future. It is the problem of now and the future.

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