Travelling to several remote places in the last few months, I've been pleasantly surprised to see several active solar panels. Although the reports about their efficacy are mixed, solar energy is something to be optimistic about. The national solar mission is ramping up its efforts, pushing for increased solar energy infrastructure. By 2022, India could have 20,000 megawatts installed. There will be many, many solar panels across India.
But the solar industry and government must also be futuristic in another way-about when the panels become waste. It takes about 20 years before a solar panel is discarded. At that point, they are likely to be as toxic as electronic, or e-waste. Solar panels contain known toxics like lead and lesser known ones like gallium arsenide, copper indium selenide, cadmium telluride, brominated flame retardants. These cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine system and confuse the body's hormonal system, amongst other miseries.
India is not far away from that point, and we have to prevent a hazardous end to solar panels. Usually, we react only after environmental groups point out how one waste stream has poisoned the elements-whether it is plastics or e-waste. This time, our policy makers must be proactive and prevent such a mess. They must tie up with manufacturers and service providers to collect and take back discarded panels and ensure their safe recycling. This country has about 5 years before the deluge. We have must ensure solar power is sustainable across its life cycle.
In Bangalore, about 10,000 homes compost and several hundred segregate their garbage. Does that city really deserve disrepute for mishandling waste?
Starting today, this column will appear every Monday.