Along with Taiwan’s ongoing green energy development efforts, the EPA has established a complete recycling, clearance, and disposal system in anticipation of waste solar panel disposal in the future. A batch of 50 waste panels retired from a solar photovoltaic installation in Penghu and was properly disposed of recently.
This recycling, clearance and disposal system, jointly developed by the EPA and MOEA’s Bureau of Energy (BOE), is currently run by Taiwan Photovoltaic Industry Association. Installers of photovoltaic generation equipment pay recycling and clearance fees in advance, and then professional disposal enterprises are commissioned for the recycling work.
Large-scale photovoltaic power generating enterprises are required to register the serial number of each solar panel with the BOE and also pay the recycling and clearance fees. When panels are to be replaced, enterprises must register online, gather the old panels together in line with regulations, and have clearance enterprises disposal of them. Households, campers or those who use a small number of solar panels can also call a dedicated number for disposal-related assistance.
Not only does this system prevent waste panels from being dumped randomly causing pollution, it can also actively promote reutilization, creating a circular green energy economy. Random dumping of waste panels or clearance and disposal by illegal means can lead to penalties of up to NT$ 3 million in fines according to the Waste Disposal Act.
According to Taiwan’s green energy policy, photovoltaic generation capacity is set to reach 20 gigawatts in five years. Presuming the life cycle of solar panels is 20 years, there would be over 100,000 metric tons of waste panels per year starting from 2035. Additionally, annual generation of waste panels due to natural disasters is estimated to be about 0.5% of annual panel installation. Random dumping can lead to pollution caused by heavy metals leaked from circuit boards, which is why the EPA has preemptively planned and developed this recycling system.
Solar panels are mainly composed of glass (74.16%), aluminum (10.30%), silicon (3.35%), copper (0.57%), precious metals, and plastics. Many of them can be recycled and reused after proper sorting and dismantling. At present, enterprises use heat treatment (melting or “hot knife method”) to separate glass and battery sheets and reuse them.
This recycling system set up by the EPA requires registration from installation to disposal to ensure that every solar panel is properly recycled. Enterprises which registered their solar panels before 18 December 2019 are encouraged to go to the Waste Solar Panels Recycling Service Management Information System to register when dispose of them. For those that registered after that date, the BOE will provide the electronic data and import them directly into the Information System.
Online application is mandatory to dispose of used solar panels. The approval is mainly based on checking the module serial number, supplemented by the case-by-case total quantity control of individual sites. The goal is to ensure that each decommissioned panel can be traced back to the registration of individual sites.
Four steps are required to recycle waste solar panels: asking, filling out, gathering, and collecting. Photovoltaic equipment owners or people who have waste panels can dispose of them by themselves or by commissioning certified publicly or privately run waste clearance enterprises to do so. Also, they can go to the Waste Solar Panels Recycling Service Management Information System (https://pvis.epa.gov.tw) to register relevant panel decommissioning information. When the number of registered waste panels reaches 50, a case will be set up to deploy clearance enterprises to handle them. Aside from power generating enterprises, households that install small-scale solar panel systems can use the online registration system to properly dispose of their waste panels. As for gasoline and diesel used in land transportation, the carcinogens benzene and PAHs, which can affect the environment and human health, are subject to tighter control. The maximum benzene content in gasoline has been tightened from 1% to 0.9%, and the maximum PAH content in diesel from 11% to 8%. The revision was to safeguard air quality and protect human health by reducing the risk of exposure to carcinogens.
The EPA stated that, with the Standards for Fuel Compositions of Mobile Sources taking effect in on 1 July 2020, CPC Corporation, Formosa Petrochemical Corporation, and other fuel providers will begin to provide products compliant with the latest standards. Users of all transportation vehicles are urged to use such products instead of recycled or mixed fuel products of unknown origins to help improve the air quality. Moreover, in an attempt to improve recycling technology and develop high-value applications, the EPA has been working with industry and academia on developing continuous waste tire devulcanization recycling technologies. These technologies can be used to produce high-quality recycled rubber suitable for making various rubber products. The next step is collaborating with factories for mass production to further diversify processing technologies, increase reutilization values, and create more green business opportunities.
Excerpt from Environmental Policy Monthly, 23 (5)
- Environmental Protection Administration, R.O.C.(Taiwan)