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Time to think about recycling of end-of-life solar panels: experts

The growth of solar power generation in Vietnam has come alongside increasing concern over the disposal of end-of-life solar panels in the coming decades.

Fields of solar panels in Sao Mai Solar PV1 Factory in the southern province of An Giang. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Sang

According to Vietnam Electricity (EVN), in the first eight months of this year, the country’s solar power generation hit 6.39 billion kWh, accounting for nearly 4 per cent of total power generated and imported to the country but the figure was nearly three times higher than solar power generation in the same period last year.

Also in the first eight months of this year, 25,706 rooftop solar power projects were carried out with a total capacity of 758.2 MWp, bringing the total number of rooftop solar power projects in operation to 50,000 with a total capacity of nearly 12,000 MWp.

According to Trung Nam Group, its solar power project in Trà Vinh will install more than 444,000 solar panels to generate 140 MWp while another project in Ninh Thuan Province will use 700,000 solar panels to generate 204 MWp.

The two projects are among many to be built in the near future thanks to increased incentives the Government has offered to promote the development of renewable energy.

In Vietnam’s renewable energy strategy, the country expects solar power to generate about 29,000 MWp by 2030 and 170,000 MWp by 2050.

Associate professor and doctor Pham Sy Hoang from Hanoi University of Sciences and Technology said that the production of solar panels impacted the environment.

Another environmental issue was how to deal with the end-of-life solar panels, Hoang said, adding that it was time for Government and agencies to consider solutions for the issue.

Dr Nguyen Van Khai, former director of Green ID Centre, said Vietnam had the ability to recycle such end-of-life solar panels if it studied the issue.

Tran Viet Ngai, president of the Vietnam Energy Association, said solar panels could be used for 20-25 years and in the near future, it was necessary to consider maintaining and increasing the longevity of the panels.

It was necessary to develop technology to effectively deal with end-of-life solar panels and even recycle them, Ngai said.

Currently, solar panels are manufactured from crystalline silicon with about 70 per cent from glass, 15 per cent aluminium for frames, 10 per cent plastic and only 3-5 per cent silicon.

With current technology, recycling efficiency can exceed 90 per cent.

A representative from solar panel producing company – Mat Troi Do (Red Sun) said almost all parts of solar panels could be recycled. Key to proper recycling is law-binding obligations and funding so that end-of-life solar panels are recycled in a timely hasion.

The EU has pioneered solar photovoltaic (PV+) electronic waste regulations including PV-specific collection, recovery and recycling targets. The EU Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive entails all producers supplying PV panels to the EU market to finance the costs of collecting and recycling end-of-life solar panels.

This means solar panel producers must collect, transport and treat the end-of-life panels they installed at households.

The regulation aims to increase producers’ responsibility for environmental protection as well as their presence in the whole life cycle of their products. For households who installed solar panels, they don’t have to pay for treatment for end-of-life solar panels.

Head of Renewable Energy and Electricity Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade Hoang Tien Dung said that the Government body would strictly oversee solar power waste and ensure that waste treatment was in tandem with environmental regulations.

The ministry has issued a circular regulating solar power project development and power purchase contracts in which, project investors are responsible for the collection and treatment of end-of-life solar panels as well as other waste produced during use.  VNS


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