With electricity generation from solar on the rise in Bangladesh, the need to recycle PV waste from dead systems will become a big challenge.
Used lead-acid batteries and other solar panel waste is not being recycled properly, a study has found.
Though there is a policy regarding the recycling of batteries used alongside solar systems, Bangladesh is yet to frame guidelines on PV waste management, which can pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Almost six million solar home systems have been installed in off-grid areas of rural Bangladesh, generating around 341 MW of power.
According to a study by Helal Uddin Ahmed, chairman of the department of management information systems at the University of Dhaka, next year the country will have 22,000 tons of solar-related waste, of which 12,000 tons will be acid and 1,000 tons lead.
Ahmed found a typical battery lifespan of 2-5 years. After that, he said, most system owners dump the waste, which is collected by people and taken to business centers.
Siddique Zobair, a member of the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority, disagrees, and says battery suppliers have started to collect used products for recycling.
“Even a year back, used batteries were not recycled properly,” he said. “But now, since there is a business interest – the lead of a used battery can be sold at BDT1,500 ($18) – those are now disposed [of] properly.” Zobair accepted, however, there is no policy for solar panel recycling.
“Solar [systems] came to Bangladesh [for the] first time in 2003 … lifetimes will expire in 2023. In the meantime we have drafted a solar panel disposal policy which, within this year, will be finalized,” he said.
More on-site consumption
Zobair added, some panel waste has already been created after systems were broken down following severe weather such as hailstorms. They have not been disposed of properly, he admitted.
Dipal C Barua, president of the Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association told pv magazine big battery suppliers have recycling plants. They buy old batteries, harvest lead from them and recycle the rest.
He said: “We started selling solar panels in Bangladesh some 22 years back. Now those old panels will break down. We need a policy for their disposal.”
International bodies have said Bangladesh must start using batteries without lead-acid, to reduce environmental risks. Mini grids and net metering could be used to raise the amount of solar consumed immediately, reducing the need for lead-acid battery storage, it has been pointed out.