[Photo by Lee Chung-woo]
Tons of solar panels installed in the early 2000s are reaching the end of their lifecycle in South Korea, posing a serious environment risk to the country that has set an ambitious target to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
Korea Photovoltaic Industry Association (KOPIA), a government approved non-profit organization representing the photovoltaic value chain in the country, recently warned that Korea’s waste solar modules are projected to surge from 988 tons per year in 2023 to 9,632 tons in 2028 and to 28,153 tons in 2033.
A solar panel’s operating lifespan is about 20 years. Considering that solar power has begun to be supplied in Korea since 2002, waste solar modules could go to landfill starting this year, said Jung Woo-sik, vice president of KOPIA.
Given that a waste module weighing 20 kilograms normally occupies an area of 2 square meters, solar panel waste of 28,153 tons would reach 2.8 square kilometers in size, which is equivalent to the area of Yeouido, the “Manhattan of Seoul”.
But the problem is that although a government agency under the Ministry of Environment is compiling information about solar PV modules reported as waste, it remains unclear how many modules are deserted without reporting, according to industry sources.
This could pose a serious problem to the Korean government that recently set a target to achieve a net zero carbon emissions by 2050 using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
To promote use of PV energy, the government plans to introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) to the local PV industry from 2023 for recycling of waste modules, but the industry remains skeptical about the system.
EPR is a system currently applied to 12 types of industrial products such as batteries, tires, and lubricants. To expand its application to solar panel waste in 2023, a mutual aid association must be created and operated in advance, but the process to select an eligible association has not yet begun.
PV experts recommend reuse of solar modules after the end of their lifespan instead of recycling. Lee Jin-seok, Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER), said the current EPR system focuses on recycling, making it difficult to apply the program to solar power as it is.
By Song Min-geun and Minu Kim
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]