End-of-life management of batteries in the off-grid solar sector

Nov 30, 2018

Source/author : GIZ

Read article : https://bit.ly/2TjN4sl

1. Introduction

In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 on affordable and clean energy for all, many developing countries initiated ambitious energy access programs that are often supported by the international donor community. Many of these government programmes follow a combined strategy encompassing grid extension, establishing mini-grids, as well as the distribution of solar home systems (SHS) and solar lanterns in remote rural areas with no connection to the electricity grid (off-grid).

While energy-access projects undoubtedly have numerous positive development effects on newly electrified communities, they also bring new challenges related to waste management. These challenges are linked to the fact that equipment used for mini-grids and SHS, as well as the electrical and electronic devices powered by the new systems, will sooner or later become waste. And these waste types (commonly referred to as e-waste and battery waste) have more or less hazardous properties and require special treatment and disposal. E-waste and battery waste are already known to be a challenge in many developing countries and emerging economies with serious hot spots in many urban areas where collection and recycling is often conducted by informal sectors with little regard to emission control and impacts on human and environmental health. If these challenges are not taken into account by energy-access projects, related problems might soon expand to rural communities. But this negative scenario should not be used as a reason to slow down energy access efforts. In turn, it is known that many energy-access projects encompass much more than supplying equipment to off-grid areas and often also initiate transformative change in various other fields of daily life and community interaction. Thus, energy-access projects can also serve as a pathway to introduce effective modern waste management systems in areas that have no or limited experience with complex municipal and hazardous waste.

This paper aims to introduce the realities of managing e-waste and battery waste in the context of developing countries, with a specific focus on energy access projects. While chapter 2 gives an overview on the characteristics and required management pathways of most important e-waste fractions from off-grid power installations, chapters 3 to 5 specifically focus on the management of waste batteries from minigrids and SHS. This focus is justified by the fact that batteries are typically the components with the shortest lifespan. Thus, it is the first waste fraction generated in large volumes only a few years after introducing mini-grids and SHS to a region. On top of this, waste batteries are associated with particularly pronounced environmental and health concerns so that this waste stream requires particular attention by energy-access projects and wider decision-making circles.

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