CIRCUSOL: Solar power business models towards a circular economy in…
“Circular Business Models for the Solar Power Industry” (CIRCUSOL) celebrated its final event at the European Parliament last 15 November 2022. This session, hosted by the MEP Ms Adriana Maldonado, gathered diverse stakeholders from the solar value chain.
CIRCUSOL partners, not only presented the main results of the project as a whole and from the different demo sites, but also introduced the main pathways and strategies that could stimulate the adoption of a more circular and sustainable solar power and batteries in Europe.
Pathways and strategies forward
LUND University, based on the lessons gathered from the project and an extensive revision of literature and research, have issued a decalogue on potential strategies for a more circular Europe.
- Address premature defects and decommissioning:
Reducing the rate of early and mid-life failures can be achieved by the development of an appropriate life-cycle quality management, which includes regular operation and maintenance. However, these would be achieved only by the encouragement of institutions and the support of industrial partners.
- Enhance design for circularity & recovery of critical raw materials:
Experience shows that PV modules and EV batteries are not designed for repair, recycle or recovery of their components, which poses challenges to the different circularity options. Design for circularity including the recovery of critical raw materials should be promoted through regulatory requirements in design, recovery targets or the use of a digital product passport, among others.
- Advance preparation for reuse:
CIRCUSOL, during its project timeline, has made key contributions to the development of guidelines and standards for the reuse of PV panels and the repurpose of EV batteries. However, additional standards should be adopted and used. For instance: (1) a regulatory mandate to provide of refurbishable PV panels to refurbishers, (2) stimulate the development and adoption of automation techniques for testing and re-certification in order to bring down the costs for these processes, and (3) development of guidelines and provision of hands-on training for workers for the dismantling of solar installations and for the transport and handling of modules, to ensure the quality and integrity of decommissioned modules that are suitable for reuse.
- Establish data collection and sharing procedures:
In order to establish a good basis for the development of standards and guidelines, a series of data should be collected, and this is one of the biggest challenges, due to the reluctancy of manufacturers to disclose information. The establishment of procedures for collection and data management and share is of the utmost importance to ensure the reliability of the products.
- Address legal-administrative barriers for service-based business models:
Demonstrators in CIRCUSOL have experienced a series of legal and administrative barriers in the development of their service-based business models. In this case, the specific barriers need to be amended at a national or regional legislation level, although the simplification of some of the ownership measures could be provided at a European level.
- Investigate feasibility of reuse in underexplored EU market segments:
CIRCUSOL has conceived its research in high-income countries where, as the results of the surveys developed within the project have shown that, consumers prefer high-efficiency, aesthetics and ownership over a second-life and a service-based business model. In this scenario, CIRCUSOL proposes to further explore the application of reused panels for alternative purposes such as agrivoltaics, floating or off-grid applications.
- Investigate feasibility of reuse and address end-of-life management in non-EU countries:
As mentioned in the previous pathway, in high-income countries such as the ones where the project developed its activities, new components remain the preferred option. CIRCUSOL proposes the exploration of non-EU markets where performance might not be the most important value. Nevertheless, presently, not only the existing export regulation is poorly enforced, but there is a high risk of inadequate management of the end-of-life phase, which could bring more damage to the environment, plus the consequent loss of the critical raw materials. In this sense, facilities for the treatment of solar waste should be developed locally to avoid landfilling. One of the mechanisms for support could be the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs).
- Actualise and implement EU battery regulation proposal and standardization for repurposing of EVBs:
The new battery regulation proposal and related standards aim to support the repurposing market development of second-life batteries and its circularity. Furthermore, the adoption of the standards IEC 63330: Requirements for reuse of secondary batteries and IEC 63338: General guidance for reuse of secondary cells and batteries will complement the implementation of the new battery regulation.
- Strengthen public perception of circular PV and EVBs:
During its activities, CIRCUSOL has confirmed the lack of knowledge of the society on the second-life PV and batteries’ use. It is of the utmost importance to devote further efforts to the communication of circular strategies. Institutions could set an example by leading the uptake of reused PV and refurbished batteries and include them among the criteria for the green procurement, and dissemination campaigns raising the awareness of this model.
- A research agenda for a circular PV and EVB sector:
Finally, CIRCUSOL recommends the creation of a research agenda for the solar and EVB sectors. Some key actions proposed include (1) the development and calibration of resource and product flow models as well as price models, (2) a holistic assessment of emerging PV and EVB technologies from a circularity perspective, (3) an assessment of the socio-economic and environmental benefits of different circularity strategies, and (4) the evaluation of the actual implementation and effectiveness of a number of new government interventions that are currently in the pipeline.