Renewable energy is cleaner, more sustainable, and cheaper than fossil fuels. However, there are two concerns that crop up regarding clean energy waste. First, when clean energy sources, like solar farms, need to be retired because of aging equipment, disposal of materials must be handled carefully as they often contain toxic substances. Second, when the demand for power produced by a renewable energy source doesn’t meet the facility’s output, then there must be a way to curtail production. There is no way to store excess energy produced.
What Is Clean Energy Waste?
Clean energy has been growing in popularity over the years, but now there’s a problem – deciding what to do with the waste produced by clean energy. For example, some of the early installations of solar panels are coming to the end of their life cycle. How do we safely dispose of those? One popular train of thought is that we find a way to make the means for producing sustainable energy renewable.
Right now, the reason we’re so concerned with waste and clean energy is that things like those end-of-lifecycle solar panels are not so good for our environment. In a single 6,350-acre solar farm, there are about 100,000 pounds of cadmium. Moreover, when there’s a natural disaster like a tornado, the cleanup tends to get contaminated with rock and dirt, making it hard to recycle all the parts. In addition, toxic chemicals are often contained in solar panels in a way where they cannot be removed without dismantling the whole solar panel. (Shellenberger, 2018).
Even when recycling is possible, there isn’t a lot of incentive to go through the effort involved with recycling them. The cost involved with recovering materials exceeds the cost of not recycling. In fact, the issue is looming so large that the EPA is expected to step in to come up with an ecologically sound method for disposal. (O’Donoghue, 2021).
Moreover, we don’t always produce energy when it’s needed – an extra-windy day may produce a ton of wind-based-energy, but because we can’t use all of it when needed and storage of wind energy isn’t as easy as just capturing it to store for later, it often goes to waste. (Koen & Antunez, 2020).
Why Can’t We Store the Waste Produced by Clean Energy?
In addition to having a tough time navigating safe disposal of the materials used in the production of clean energy, there’s also a problem the storage of clean energy. With something like coal, if there’s an excess mined, it can just be kept until it’s needed. The problem is when we burn coal, it burns off into CO2 and that’s problematic for our climate. Not only that, but our fossil fuel sources are also rapidly running out.
The problem with renewable energies is that if we want to store the energy generated by sun, wind, or water, we need to have a way to store it – and for renewables, that means we need to have large batteries for storage. Not only is this costly, but it also has space limitations. (Gates, 2016)
While some believe we already have a good solution for electricity storage found in thermal electricity storage (Koen & Antunez, 2020), as more pilot plants get data back about the success of this endeavor, the question remains: “What do we do with all of this leftover clean energy when we produce an excess?”
Why Is Cryptomining a Good Solution?
Cryptocurrency has been getting a bad rap lately. It is energy-intensive, and nations such as China have been banning crypto mining due to its draw on the energy grid. Because it uses a lot of power to mine a single Bitcoin, there has been a push to use clean energy to fuel the crypto mining process. Hydropower plants have been used for Bitcoin mining as have decommissioned coal power plants. (Martin & Nauman, 2021). This can create a negative environmental impact, and it can divert clean energy sources from where they might best benefit a community.
Because Bitcoin production can use more energy than a single country in a given day (Suazo, 2021), it’s a good candidate for solving the problem of waste inherent in clean energy production. Sauzo argues that in order to be able to successfully harness clean energy and clean energy waste for Bitcoin production, we must first convince people that Bitcoin has significance. While cryptocurrency is increasing in legitimization (for example, home purchases involving Bitcoin transactions), it is important to continue to build people’s familiarity with the cryptocurrency.
According to Sauzo (2021), the Chinese ban on Bitcoin mining has created “an opportunity for the U.S. to encourage the location of large Bitcoin mining operations next to large energy opportunities. Bitcoin miners can locate themselves anywhere and are perfectly positioned to exploit stranded energy assets, feed off waste energy, [etc.].” Not only can diverting extra energy produced by a wind farm work to power crypto mining, but Bitcoin mining can also take advantage of abandoned wind farms that still have some life left in them.
In fact, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency mining may be posed to drive renewable energy production in the future as the demand for clean energy and cryptocurrency continue to increase. Bitcoin mining gives a scalable means for absorbing that excess energy consumption. This is especially true as miners leverage mechanisms like those we have at EcoChain Mining, where computing power can be scaled up to consume available energy not being consumed elsewhere or scaled back when demand from other sources increases. This allows the renewable energy source facility to account for and sell every megawatt produced. It allows the clean energy plant to increase their bottom line while they can also entice and incentivize renewable energy startups looking to build facilities to do so.
Gates, Bill. “It Is Surprisingly Hard to Store Energy.” GatesNotes. February 22, 2016, accessed September 10, 2021.
Koen, Antoine & Pau Farres Antunez. “There’s a Simple Way to Store Renewable Energy, And We Already Have the Technology.” Science Alert. February 26, 2020, accessed September 10, 2021.
Martin, Katie & Billy Nauman. “Bitcoin’s Growing Energy Problem: ‘It’s a Dirty Currency.’” Financial Times. May 19, 2021, accessed September 13, 2021.
O’Donoghue, Amy Joi. “The Dark Side of ‘Green Energy’ and Its Threat to the Nation’s Environment.” DesertNews. January 30, 2021, accessed September 10, 2021.
Sauzo, Miguel. “The Argument for Mining Bitcoin From Clean Energy and Waste Energy Streams.” Mondaq: Connecting Knowledge & People. September 13, 2021, accessed September 13, 2021.
Shellenberger, Michael. “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?” Forbes. May 23, 2018, accessed September 10, 2021.