How to deal with hazardous battery waste from solar power projects in developing countries?

End-of-Life Management of Batteries in the Off-Grid Solar Sector

In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 on affordable and clean energy for all, many developing countries initiated ambitious energy access programs that are often supported by the international donor community. Many of these government programmes follow a combined strategy encompassing grid extension, establishing mini-grids, as well as the distribution of solar home systems (SHS) and solar lanterns in remote rural areas with no connection to the electricity grid (off-grid). While energy-access projects undoubtedly have numerous positive development effects on newly electrified communities, they also bring new challenges related to waste management.

This paper aims to introduce the realities of managing e-waste and battery waste in the context of developing countries, with a specific focus on energy access projects. The study’s main focus is the management of waste batteries from mini-grids and SHS. This focus is justified by the fact that batteries are typically the components with the shortest lifespan. Thus, it is the first waste fraction generated in large volumes only a few years after introducing mini-grids and SHS to a region. On top of this, waste batteries are associated with particularly pronounced environmental and health concerns so that this waste stream requires particular attention by energy-access projects and wider decision-making circles.