Clean energy should use the battery of a circular economy

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News: The Union Finance Minister, in the Budget speech 2022-23, emphasised the role of circular economy, and cleaner technologies such as solar energy and batteries in India’s future economic growth. 

A robust renewables waste management and recycling ecosystem could help people and India reduce environmental harm, provide energy security, and also create new jobs. 

In order to achieve India’s net-zero target in the year 2070, India would need over 5,630 GW of solar and 1,792 GW of wind energy.
Why India should transition towards a circular economy?

It can lead to an efficient waste management ecosystem necessary to manage the enormous waste that would be generated by renewable energy projects in the coming decades. For example, India’s total installed solar capacity could be as high as 325 kilotonnes by 2030.  

A circular economy could also partially insulate the renewable energy industries from potential supply chain shocks triggered by extraneous developments. 

It would also offer quality employment opportunities for the future generations. For example, new jobs across the entire value chain of waste management and recycling. 

What are the steps needed to nurture a circular economy in the Indian renewable energy industry? 

First, the existing electronic waste management rules should be revised. For instance: Bringing various clean energy components under its ambit, and clear definition of responsibilities of various stakeholders involved in the renewable energy value chain for example, manufacturers, assemblers, importers and distributors etc. 

Second, dumping in landfills and burning of different components should be banned. It is because dumping leads to leaching of metals (like heavy metals such as lead and cadmium) and non-metals into the environment. They then enter the food chain. Also, burning the items of the solar photovoltaic modules releases toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide and some volatile organic compounds. 

Third, the renewable energy industry should invest in the research and development of recycling technologies/new ways of recycling that result in higher efficiency and a less environmentally damaging footprint.

Fourth, there is a need to create innovative financing routes for waste management. It may include (a) nudging public and private sector banks to charge lower interest rates on loans in this sector, (b) issuing performance-based green certificates to recyclers that could be traded to raise money for waste management and (c) The mandatory procurement by the renewable energy and other relevant manufacturing industries be done to create market for recycled materials.  

Fifth, there is a need to improve the product design like finding substitutes for toxic metals such as cadmium and lead used in their products. There is a need to improve product designs to reduce recycling steps.  

Sixth, the end-of-life of components may be increased by imposition of stringent quality control standards. It will consequently reduce waste creation. Such quality enforcement could also position India’s renewable energy industry as a global supplier of quality products. 

Seventh, India’s recycling sector is informal. The workers have to work in unsafe environments without standardised wages. Therefore, the government should develop an efficient renewable energy waste management and circular ecosystem, i.e., a kind of formal industry.

Source: The post is based on an article “Clean Energy should use the battery of a circular economy” published in The Hindu on 17th Mar 22. 

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