Solar energy is growing as a source of clean, renewable energy in Singapore. But this raises a key and pressing challenge for the industry here: Where do all the used solar panels go at the end of their lifespan?
The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that by 2050, the world would have produced 60 million tonnes of photovoltaic panel waste.
Local company Sembcorp Industries and Singapore Polytechnic (SP) say they have a solution to the problem. They signed a collaboration yesterday to commercialise what is said to be Singapore's first solar panel recycling process.
Developed locally by researchers, it involves extracting 90 per cent of recyclable materials, such as glass, silicon and metals, from used solar panels. Under the collaboration, they will also develop a pilot recycling plant for solar panels.
The technology will eventually be used to help recycle panels from Sembcorp's rooftop solar projects in Singapore that are located at public housing blocks, schools, government sites, and private commercial and industrial facilities.
If the technology proves commercially viable, the pilot plant can then serve as a potential prototype for larger-scale recycling of used solar panels in Singapore, and beyond.
They hope this will help minimise waste and ensure that photovoltaic energy remains environmentally friendly.
Sembcorp and SP will also work to increase and strengthen the pool of skilled manpower for the growth of solar energy here.
This will come in the form of jointly developed course curricula at the polytechnics, internships and programmes for managers, engineers and technicians working on solar projects. The curricula will complement SP's current course material on solar energy systems and deployment.
"The partnership with Sembcorp provides Singapore Polytechnic a platform to test its innovative solution that can potentially be a game changer for Singapore's zero-waste vision. The collaboration also allows us to play a part in keeping Singapore's workforce relevant to the changing needs of the industry through our robust full-time and continuing education training courses," said SP deputy principal Lim Peng Hun.
Solar panels here have yet to come to the end of their lifespan of around 25 years.
The initiatives, Sembcorp said, will help Singapore develop an approach in which solar projects will be seen through from the stages of procurement, design and installation and operation to beyond the end of their operational lives.
"We believe this focus on responsible resource management is especially timely, given that 2019 has been declared Singapore's Year Towards Zero Waste. At the same time, we also see a strong need to build up a pool of skilled talent in Singapore, to support future solar projects competently," said Mr Koh Chiap Khiong, head of Sembcorp's energy business in Singapore, South-east Asia and China.
To seal the partnership, a memorandum of collaboration was signed by Mr Koh and Mr Lim. Officials from Singapore's Economic Development Board, Energy Market Authority and National Environment Agency were also present.