Antofagasta has positioned itself as the region with the most significant number of photovoltaic parks in Chile, with 2,389 MW of installed capacity as of March 2022. However, this rapid growth has also meant medium and long-term challenges for the circular and sustainable economy. Millions of solar panels will reach their end of life in the future.
To address this challenge, Enel has joined Chile's first project to develop protocols and technical and economic standards that will enable a second life industry for photovoltaic modules. "Generation of technical and economic standards to enable the second life of photovoltaic modules" is a public-private initiative under the "Corfo's Public Assets" program. Commissioned by the Energy Undersecretary, the initiative includes the Center for Circular Economy in Industrial Processes and the Center for Energy Development of the University of Antofagasta as participants.
"Photovoltaic energy can substantially contribute to the circular economy in Chile by providing a renewable resource to domestic industry and contributing to decarbonization. However, we also face a major challenge to make the entire solar power generation value chain more sustainable and circular, from panel and equipment design to building and operating power plants and managing their end of life. This is a unique project both in Chile and worldwide. It combines the knowledge and real data from the public and private sectors in one of the most prolific photovoltaic generation regions globally and guarantees a new life cycle for millions of modules," said Daniel Manríquez, Project Manager Innovation of Enel Green Power.
Ingrid Jamett, director of the Industrial Engineering Department of the Universidad de Antofagasta said, "We propose to develop protocols and technical and economic standards so we can open up a second life market for these modules. We will also work with public institutions to implement regulations that tackle the subject of final use and safety."
Public assets for the circular economy
The studies carried out to classify the end-use of modules combined with laboratory and pilot tests will enable stakeholders to develop technical and economic standards for public assets.
Those that stand to benefit from the second life reuse of panels potentially include underserved communities with electricity, social housing developments, agricultural and livestock farms, and the construction industry.
During the initial development stages of the plan, four working groups will be set up and run in April and May, consisting of a range of local stakeholders and experts. The groups will review the latest test protocols for the second use of active and decommissioned photovoltaic modules to recover components and work to lift regulatory barriers for second use.
"Public-private collaboration is key for moving quickly towards sustainable development. We are very pleased with how this collaborative project is going, which we are certain will be joined by more stakeholders in the future. We hope that this model will address other major circular economy challenges in the energy sector, such as batteries. This initiative will lead to the emergence of new secondary markets that require new skills and create new jobs. At the same time, it forces us to rethink our relationship with nature and its resources," said Natalia Correa, Head of the Circular Economy Area for Enel Chile.
We should also point out that this project will significantly contribute to decentralizing the country and positioning the Antofagasta Region as a hub of innovation and development of renewable energies worldwide while contributing to building economic, social, and environmental resources for its citizens.