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Circular Economy Approach Could Boost Energy Self-Reliance in India

The urgent need to cut emissions, reduce waste, and build a sustainable and self-reliant economy could push India toward recycling and reusing its end-of-life solar energy components, says a new report.

“The adoption of a circular approach to managing end-of-life solar photovoltaic (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,” writes the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA. 

IEEFA Energy Finance Consultant Saloni Sachdeva Michael said the time for India to make the shift away from a linear “make-use-dispose” model is now, as the country accelerates its efforts to meet its clean energy targets with renewable energy.  

Investing in circularity will yield economic and social benefits as well as environmental ones, Sachdeva Michael said, observing that “decarbonization based on circular principles is an opportunity to optimize usage of local resources, which would reduce dependency on imports.” 

She added that a circular model “would also reduce the amount of carbon emitted from raw materials used in the manufacture of wind, solar, and battery components and minimize waste.”

And emissions saved will be money in the bank. According to International Renewable Energy Agency estimates, “the potential value created by the recovery of raw materials from solar panels globally could reach US$450 million by 2030 and $15 billion by 2050,” IEEFA writes.

“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,” says Sachdeva Michael. “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.”

The report recommends that policy-makers looking to promote circularity in the renewable sector concentrate on “policy and regulatory clarity”—for example, making it mandatory “for government tenders and contracts to include clear directions for the treatment and disposal of existing panels.” 

The report also recommends strengthening the hand of producer responsibility organizations (for example, solar industry organizations or non-profit watchdogs) to require that companies conduct “renewable waste collection, segregation, dismantling, and recycling”. It also calls for those organizations to establish a “circular supply chain and inventory” of soon-to-be retired panels, windmill blades, and batteries.