A way forward towards Circular Economy to deal with Solar Waste Generation.


There is an urgent need to build a circular economy, if we have to handle the waste that is being generated by solar power generation and by other renewable sources of energy. In future we will be facing a lot of problems related to the generation of solar power waste. In the budget speech this year, the government emphasises on the role of using cleaner technology, such as solar power and batteries in order to drive India's economic growth in the coming decades. Now, as per the International Renewable Energy Agency, India, as a result of giving a push to its solar power, would generate a lot of solar waste as well. The way out of this problem is to develop a circular economy.


In simple terms, circular economy means that when you have used an equipment till the end of its life, a lot of components from that equipment can then be used in some other sector or in some other industry thus building a circular model but you don't have to discard the entire equipment and the entire input that you have used in any of those equipments.


Firstly we need to revise the existing electronic waste management rules that we have in place right now because right now, there is no clear responsibility on who is responsible for recycling the solar waste that is being produced by the use of solar power plants and the use of solar panels. There is a need to define exact responsibility on the various stakeholders, not just this, give them annual targets and see if they are being achieved or not and then we can incentivize or punish the stakeholders accordingly. The second step would be to avoid dumping and burning of these components. See a lot of companies that are using solar panels have semiconductors and rare earth elements that can be harmful to the environment and even poisonous in nature. Right now, most of the solar power wastes that we are producing is being landfilled because that is the cheapest and the most common practice to get rid of such waste that has to be stopped and there has to be a state law against that. The renewable energy industry also should increase its investment in the research and development of this technology. Recycling involves a lot of steps, including dismantling, disassembly of the equipment, extracting whatever is useful from that and then using it in a new equipment that requires a lot of research and development and skill development as well.


The fourth step is to create innovative financing routes because again, setting up solar panels or setting up a waste management and recycling facility requires a lot of money and investment. Since that is not really seen as a big problem right now there is no clear financing route for this, the central government should step in and nudge the public and the private sector banks to charge a lower rate of interest for loans that are required for setting up such facilities. The next step is to improve the product design and quality to make sure that if we are extracting something from an equipment that has lived for 15 to 20 to 25 years, there are still some components that can still be used in the new equipments all together. Also, we should try to find substitute for toxic metals such as Cadmium, Lead, etc so that even if they end up in a landfill they are not as harmful to environment as they used to be. The sixth step is that the Union and the State governments must also set quality control standards, specially when they are the ones who are giving tenders. Let's take an example that the central government decides that on all the government owned buildings in Delhi or across the country they want solar panels to be set up on the rooftop so that electricity can be generated. So they give a tender to a company to manufacture the solar panels and then instal them at the rooftop. Now, in such tenders, which can be in crore of rupees the centre and the state governments must put stringent conditions that high quality material only should be used, which should not harm the environment in the long run, all these steps can ensure that we end up with a circular economy and we can handle this problem that we will face in the near future.


To understand circular economy better these are the important aspects of it. It involves a practice of reducing environmental footprint, increased income by using the materials that we regard as waste, reduce a dependency on the resources and in many ways the waste material that is produced. If all these steps are put into action, we will have a circular economy at our hand very soon. Let me give you an example of a government policy that was introduced a few years back, which is a very good example of how a circular economy can be built. The government of India introduce a vehicle scrappage policy. In simple terms, if you're going ahead and buying a new car, the government said that first exchange it with your old car, sell it in the scrap, and as a result of it, you will get a good discount on your new car that you are willing to buy. For instance, the incentive to be given to the vehicle owners included 4 to 6% of discount on the ex-showroom price of the new vehicle, tax rebate in multiple states up to 25% on the road tax, additional discounts on the new vehicles and also a waiver of the registration fee that you have to pay for the new vehicle. All of this ensures that when you're buying a new vehicle, you're first giving away your old one. So there is not an exponential increase in the number of vehicles on the roads and the components that are still usable from your old vehicle can be taken out and they can be used in making new vehicles that is a good example of our circular economy can be put into place.