The Budget Center of the Legislative Yuan urged recently the government to formulate as soon as possible legislation on recycling mechanism for discarded used solar panels, which are expected to top 10,000 metric tons in volume in 2023, as a result of the government's effort to push installation of rooftop and other PV power systems.
Thanks to the DPP government's energy transformation policy, PV power has been developing by leaps and bounds over the past two years, with its output topping 1.692 million kilowatts/hour in 2017, double the 2015 level, representing average annual growth of 46%.
In a report released in July, the Budget Center notes that with Taiwan beginning to push PV power in 2000, significant amount of used solar panels will appear staring 2020, after reaching the end of 20-25 years of product life.
The Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration predicts that the volume of PV power wastes will hit 10,000 metric tons by 2023 before rising to 100,000 metric tons by 2035. The disposal of the wastes will be complicated by the sorting problem, as PV power modules will pluralize further along with technological progress, from the existing three kinds of mono-si, multi-si, and thin-film solar panels.
Presently, a common solar panel consists of 65-75% glass, 10-15% aluminum frame, 10% plastics, and 3-5% silicon, plus some metals including zinc, silver, and copper. Due to the lack of legal requirement, operators are not obliged to recycle, report, and sort the wastes, making it difficult for government to have a grip on how they are handled.
Should operators be unwilling to recycle and reuse those wastes on their own, Taiwan will be flooded by "green garbage," including heavy metals contained in thin-film solar panels, which are not suited to the disposal of landfill or incineration. With absence of study on the environmental hazard or the optimal recycling mode of discarded PV modules, they can only be recycled in a way similar to common wastes.
The Budget Center reports, citing the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), that Taiwan's silicon wastes will hit 3,300 tons in volume by 2032, incurring NT$48.78 billion of economic cost, including NT$2.78 billion of environment-related economic loss, and NT$46. billion of environment-pollution external cost.
Many countries have been aware of the problem. Back in 2007, the European Union set up PV Cycle, consisting of PV power operators and waste handlers, to oversee recycling of used solar panels. France has set up Europe's first solar-panel recycling plant recently and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) of the U.S. and the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA) have been pushing recycling of used PV modules.
To address the concern, the government publicized a schedule in April, according to which it will put forth a definite regulation by the end of 2018, following discussion among the Environmental Protection Administration, the Bureau of Energy, under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and market players.
(First photo courtesy of Mountain/ Ash via FlickrCC BY 2.0, written by Daisy Chuang)