Responsible Approach

Deliberations on ensuring circularity and sustainability

By Sarthak Takyar

“We should learn from the history of the fossil fuels sector to ensure that the energy transition is just, from societal and ecological perspectives,” said Ajay Shankar, distinguished fellow, The Energy and Reso­urces Institute (TERI), in his welcome note at the release event of the vision document for a responsible renewable energy system developed by the Responsible Energy Initiative.

Ajay Mathur, director general at the Inter­national Solar Alliance, stated that an im­por­tant aspect of making renewable energy more responsible is ensuring that solar photovoltaic (PV) modules and batteries are not dumped in landfills. With respect to end-of-life management of solar PV modules, it should be ensured that they are de­signed to be dismantled. Therefore, standards need to be in place for proper waste management of modules, which do not exist yet. Mathur also suggested that good, country- and region-specific action plans are needed. For private players, circularity and sustainability are key to making renewable energy more responsible. Satish Ma­ndhana, seni­or managing director and chief investment officer, EverSource Capi­tal, added that,   going forward, there is a need for a regulatory framework wherein the responsibilities regarding the end-of-life of panels are well established, monitored and accounted for, in account books.

P.S. Narayan, global head of sustainability and social initiatives, Wipro, opined that the key challenge is that while consumers may demand sustainability practices, suppliers will take time in implementing such demanding proposals. In an organisation, policies on climate change commitments, business and human rights, and corporate social responsibility should broadly be in consonance. To solve this challenge, certain circularity and sustainability practices need to be operationalised into easily implementable procedures for the corporates. Narayan also said that a collaborative approach between industry stakeholders is key. Apart from the dynamics bet­ween consumers and producers of renewable energy, there is also an interesting dynamic between producers of renewable energy and their investors. These two dynamics are driving the debates and discussions around making renewable energy more sustainable.

The government’s involvement in ensuring responsible roll-out of renewable energy is quite minimal currently. For ins­tance, for renewable energy projects, there is currently no need to submit environmental and social impact assessment reports. Therefore, an investor in a renewable energy company should be vigilant in ensuring that sustainable practices are being follo­w­ed, remarked Vivek Subramanian, co-foun­der and executive director, Fourth Partner Energy. He added that financiers should also provide financing and grants for players who are pursuing sustainable practices, to create commercial incentives.

Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, managing director, ACCIONA Energy India, sha­red the global best practices of the organisation, which has tried to increase the life cycle of renewable energy projects from 20 to around 30 years, thus facilitating sustainability.

Role of policymakers

Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change included solar PV modules and cells in its revised draft e-waste rules. This is a positive first step, but a lot more can be done by the policymakers. Mandhana suggested a uniform regulatory framework across all states, so that sustainability practices can be implemented easily alongside a res­ponsible recycling culture, particularly for batteries, starting from the household level. He also suggested greater focus on, and incentives for, promoting high efficiency panels, thereby conserving land. Simultaneously, for developers, he underscored the need to deploy trackers. Ra­machandran backed this suggestion, and said that in this space, clear regulations regarding the cap on land to be used per MW of a renewable energy project would be helpful. Subramanian opined that policymakers need to address the most pressing issue of polysilicon and cell procurement from China, as there is a lack of transparency on work practices in Chine­se factories. He added that if the domestic renewable industry becomes more responsible, given the added advantage of being operational in an open society, the potential for export to neighbouring countries could be tapped.

At the end of the event, the author asked Shirish Garud, director, TERI, whether it would be unfair for developers who follow sustainable renewable energy practices – and thus face the risk of having to produce renewables at a higher cost – to compete with developers who do not. In a lighter vein, he said that even if tariffs inc­rease, some stakeholders would need to take an initial risk to safeguard the interest of others – much like the opening bat­s­men in cricket matches.

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