According to the Ministry of Renewable Energy, India surpassed Italy to take fifth place globally in the deployment of solar energy. Between March 2014 and July 2019, solar power capacity expanded by more than 11 times, from 2.6 GW to 30 GW. India is fortunate to have a lot of solar potentials. India’s geographical area experiences about 5000 trillion kWh of energy incidents annually. Additionally, the majority of the nation receives 4–7 KWh per square metre each day. India has done a wonderful job so far in utilising solar energy. Solar energy is the most promising alternative energy source in terms of energy security.
The country’s solar potential is estimated to be 748 GW by the National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE), assuming that 3% of the wasteland is covered with PV panels. The National Solar Mission (NSM), one of the primary missions, has become a focal point of India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. NSM is a significant programme of the Indian government, in which the state actively participates, to encourage environmentally friendly growth while addressing India’s energy security. The government of India has introduced several programmes to promote the production of solar power throughout the nation to meet the objective set, including the solar parks programme, the VGF programme, the CPSO programme, and many more.
Off-grid and on-grid solar panel systems are the two categories that they fall under. Off-grid solar power systems were designed to bring electricity to places with unstable or nonexistent power supplies. On-grid solar power systems use solar energy to produce electricity and are directly linked to the utility grid, working in tandem with the latter. When there is a large power demand, on-grid is better.
Recently, MNRE submitted a 25-year plan in which it was suggested that installed renewable energy generation be built up to meet 85% of the entire demand in place of coal-based power generation capacity. The goal of the paper is to cap the capacity of coal-based power facilities and gradually shut them down as they get older. This indicates that the goal is for renewable energy to displace coal shortly.
However, how eco-friendly is solar power? Does it benefit the environment to install so many panels?
The government intends to build an extra 25 GW of solar cells, modules, and wafers, as well as 10 GW of wafer manufacturing capacity, to reach the net-zero carbon emission objective by 2070. India presently has a 3 GW capacity for solar cell production and a 15 GW capability for module production. Following an extra allocation of Rs 19,500 crores for the production-linked-incentive (PLI) scheme for high-efficiency solar modules in the FY23 Union Budget, it is intended to speed up the manufacturing process. The Indian prime minister asserts that the budget would not only assure green growth but also create green jobs. We are Engineers is the biggest manufacturer of solar PV modules in India. In Surat and Umbergaon in Gujarat, they have the biggest capacity for producing solar PV modules, which is 2 GW. They ship solar panels from there to the rest of the nation. In addition, according to data from 2017, India imports more solar from China (87.67%), Malaysia (94.65%), Taiwan (1.70%), and Singapore (1.03%).
A study was carried out using LCA in Australia for a full PV solar system that was produced in Germany, imported to Australia, and installed in each of the country’s key cities. It is necessary to extract, transport, process, and then assemble raw materials. Over two tonnes of greenhouse gases are released during the construction of a 1 KWh PV solar system, according to the study. Of which, around 85% are produced by the solar modules themselves. Roof frame and wiring make up around 4% of the overall greenhouse gas output, while invertor production accounts for the remaining 7% of greenhouse gas emissions. With only 4% of the greenhouse gas connected with the system being produced during transport, the PV solar system is extremely efficient. Only 2% of all greenhouse gas emissions were caused by the ship that transported the solar system from Germany to Australia. Even so, several research on LCA has been conducted, notably in India. However, the Australian research stands out since it examined mining, shipping, inverters, and wiring in great detail.
No harmful greenhouse gas emissions or noise are produced during the electricity generating process using solar energy. However, the PV sector is linked to the usage of dangerous chemicals. Numerous dangerous byproducts, including sulphuric acid, hydrogen fluoride, hydrochloric acid, and nitric acids, are a result of the production process. However, the sort of cell made determines how much chemical is used. Wafers are cleaned and contaminants are removed using these dangerous chemicals.
As silicons are refined, silicon tetrachloride is created. Although it is uncertain if created items do so, they can be recycled or reused. Otherwise, these contaminants will likely find their way into groundwater.
Finding a substitute for these dangerous substances in the area requires evaluation.
Contamination of Groundwater and Waste
As PV panels are deployed more widely, waste will rise. According to the IRENA analysis, India may produce an average of 50,000 to 320,000 tonnes of garbage annually by 2030, with a potential peak of 4.4 to 7.5 million tonnes by 2050. General waste restrictions apply to produced garbage from PV panels. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change handles garbage following the 2016 Solid Waste Management guidelines because there are no legal requirements in India. The electronic e-waste regulation of 2016 addresses rules for general e-waste and limitations on dangerous substances. PV waste is not included, though.
India is in a bad position to handle solar PV waste due to a lack of recycling laws and infrastructure, and recycling also has a high cost. Recycling must yield a profit.
By 2047, India is expected to create 2.95 billion tonnes of trash, of which 51% will be glass for covering, 31% will be aluminium for module frames, 5% will be EVA for panel lamination, 6% will be copper for cable, and 1% will be silicon for PV module cells.
In India, there is no legislation, technologies, or infrastructure for disposing of PV waste. There is a good probability that the dangerous substances stated before will contaminate the water and do severe harm to the ecosystem and people’s health. Without adequate recycling and monitoring, if the panels are fractured and disposed of in landfills, leaching may occur and the chemicals may enter the groundwater. India is ill-equipped to deal with the rising e-waste.
Although they have their issues, solar panels are not fully green. It’s time to address all the issues and offer some practical, affordable, and long-lasting answers.