Electronic waste (e-waste) impacts and mitigation options in the off-grid renewable energy sector
Federico Magalini1, Deepali Sinha1, David Rochat1, Jaco Huisman2
Off-grid solar products have been revolutionizing the quality of life in Africa, especially in areas where energy access remains a challenge. According to Global Off-grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), over 76 million people worldwide have benefited from improved energy access from off-grid lighting products.
The broader societal benefits from better education, health, employment opportunities and environment are multi-fold. Therefore, many African governments, international agencies and private companies see off-grid solar as an opportunity to not only provide quick and affordable energy access, but also to meet broader sustainable development goals.
The most promising devices are Solar Portable Lights (SPL) and off-grid Solar Home Systems (SHS), typically consisting of one or more photovoltaic modules (PV), components to provide light or charge electric devices and battery storage. Depending on the component quality, these products are used for 3-5 years.
Currently, end-of-life off-grid devices are almost negligible, in proportion to the quantity and environmental impact of the total e-waste stream. Estimates for 14 African countries shows that off-grid products represent less than 0.5% of the overall e-waste stream. In 2014, an estimated 2,500t of off-grid solar products were put on the market, and only 800t were expected in the waste stream, as compared to nearly 850,000t of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) put on market, and 460,000t of Waste EEE (WEEE). Due to rapid growth, estimated volumes are expected to pass 10,000t by 2020. The overall economic impact for take-back and recycling off-grid solar products is expected to be approximately between 0.1 to 2.5% of product price. This estimate considers expected volumes across Africa and the potential collection and recycling costs. Therefore, as off-grid products reach an inflexion point of mass adoption, developing efficient, effective, transparent and equitable EOL systems, based on experience of e-waste management in Africa and globally is key.