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Concerns over renewable energy waste amid growth potential

By Kingsley Jeremiah, Abuja
12 January 2022   |   4:05 am
With renewable energy set to account for 90 per cent of new power capacity expansion globally this year, concerns are beginning to mount over the growing waste from renewable energy with countries like Nigeria projected to suffer as a dumpsite.

With renewable energy set to account for 90 per cent of new power capacity expansion globally this year, concerns are beginning to mount over the growing waste from renewable energy with countries like Nigeria projected to suffer as a dumpsite.

Indeed, increasing attractiveness of renewable energy technologies aided by support from stakeholders from across the globe to adopt renewables against fossil fuels in order to meet climate change goals, has made solar, hydrogen, ammonia, wind and hydro to become an option for most countries.

But the growth of the sector may now present grave concerns on the backdrop of the end of life policy for renewable energy materials that are already approaching the end of their useful life.

According to the International Energy Association (IEA), in 2020, yearly renewable capacity additions increased by 45 per cent to almost 280 gigawatts (GW). This was the highest year-on year increase since 1999.

This year, the global energy body projected that solar PV development alone would hit 162 GW, which amounts to over 50 per cent higher than the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Similarly, global wind capacity additions are projected to increase 50 per cent higher than the 2017-2019 level.

Without a specific law on renewable energy, the erratic nature of grid connected electricity has increased demand for renewable energy, especially solar, as the Federal Government moves to increase renewable energy to about 30 per cent eight months from now.

This development meant that more renewable energy materials would be imported into Nigeria. Already seen as a country with very porous borders and weak institutional standards, there are fears that Nigeria could become a dumpsite.

The concerns for some stakeholders were that the waste from the renewable energy sector could form a new burden for developing countries like Nigeria, which are already burdened by electronic and automobile as well as battery waste.

Just a few days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said 29 per cent of Nigeria’s health burden is caused by environmental risk, including electronic waste, adding that electronic materials that are not well disposed are responsible for the health challenge facing many Nigerians.

Waste from solar batteries and other related materials are being linked to cancer, especially the presence of lead and strong corrosive acids as well as nickel and cadmium known for human carcinogens.

Reportedly, the global battery market size is expected to reach $310.8 billion by 2027, just as the utilisation of lead batteries in Nigeria is put at N85 billion. While the development provides economic gains, the lack of regulations poses huge environmental challenges.

A report conducted by the ministry of foreign affairs of the Netherland, which focused on solar development in Nigeria, had noted that about $150 million worth of solar equipment were imported to Nigeria in 2019 as market opportunities stand at $9.2 billion.

It estimated that 500 megawatts of solar systems would have been installed in Nigeria by 2025 from the current 28 megawatts.

The road to renewable expansion in Nigeria is backed by the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy (NREEEP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with Power Africa.

The agencies concluded the four-year Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project (REEEP) and the Solar Power Naija Project are expected to see the roll-out of five million solar-based connections to communities that are off-grid. The project is expected to cost $620 million.

The Nigerian Electrification Programme (NEP) was launched in 2019 to run through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) with funding from African Development Bank ($150 million), Africa Growing Together Fund ($50 million) and the World Bank $350 million). There were also indications that the European Union had made available the sum of €165 million for investment towards the development and implementation of renewable energy projects.

TotalEnergies recently pledged to invest about $60 billion in Nigeria, especially in renewables while attempting to move towards becoming one of the world’s top five organisations in renewables by 2030.

A report conducted by Deloitte noted that end-of-life (EoL) management strategies for renewable energy industry products and materials would likely capture attention in 2022 as early installations approach the end of their useful life.

Although this is seen as another investment opportunity, by 2030, the report projected that decommissioned PV modules could total one million tonnes a year in the United States alone as about 8,000 aging wind blades are expected to be removed in 2022. Reportedly, accumulated blade waste through 2050 could total about 2.2 million tonnes.

Energy expert, Dr. Olarewaju Olufemi, had warned that growing energy waste could turn the country to a dump site.

He expressed concerns over the country’s inability to develop a strong end-of-life policy for most renewable products.

Director at International Support Network for African Development, Adedoyin Adeleke, stated it was impressive to see a rising trajectory of renewable energy exploitation in Nigeria.

According to him, the development would help to address energy access deficit cum contribution towards Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contributions to global climate action.

“Nonetheless, though renewable energy is renewable, the technological components are not. Hence, efforts aimed at the deployment of renewable energy technologies should also integrate strategies for managing the decommissioning of the technological components at the end of their service life,” he stated.

Adeleke noted that the commendable rising trajectory of solar energy uptake meant significant battery waste in the next couple of years.

To him, while international stakeholders support energy developers in the implementation of renewable energy projects, a share of the support should be focused on end-of-life management.

He equally urged organisations such as National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency to apply measures that would prevent environmental waste from solar batteries, among other components of renewable energy.