Renewables and the issue with sustainability?

The waste problem that comes from constant innovation

Sustainable energy from renewables is the future. Over time these technologies get more efficient. Our reliance on fossil fuels is less and we can be smarter in the way we use Hydrocarbons.

There is an issue with the speed of innovation in renewables though. The sustainability of older technology and the waste it generates.

It’s not all bad news though, there are also opportunities. The sustainability challenge feeds directly into a need to embrace the circular economy. As these assets are decommissioned at the end of their working life.

Generally, renewables are set into 4 main groups:

  • Solar, i.e solar panels generating electricity
  • Wind, i.e wind turbines generating electricity
  • Geothermal, this is where wells are drilled into hot water lakes underground. The steam and hot water are produced to heat water for homes, offices, etc. It can also drive steam turbines to create electricity.
  • Water, hydroelectricity has been around for over 100 years. Today the new kids on the block are wave and tidal energy generators.

Out of these subgroups, its wind, and water where the challenges lie. Solar, geothermal, and hydroelectricity are mature. There is a sustainable path for a lot of the parts to be reused and recycled at the end of their life.

The same thing goes for wave and tidal generators. The pace of innovation and learning here is fast. But the structures are all made of metal, they can easily be repurposed and recycled.

The one renewable that has a challenge that’s yet to be fully solved is wind.
While wind turbines have a design life of 25 years plus, the turbine blades don’t. They are changed out from time to time as they wear. At the same time, new more efficient blade designs come onto the market all the time.

As a result, the blades have a working life less than 10 years. Because they are fiberglass they can’t be recycled.

As a result, the blades are cut up and go into landfill.

Yep, the by-product of clean energy is a huge landfill problem.

Today it’s the break in the circular economy. Everything else in the renewable chain is recycled or repurposed in the decommissioning cycle.

The blades though, well it’s easier just to dump them. This is where the opportunity lies.

n our circular economy, there has to be an alternative use. Which reduces the waste buried and reduces the economic cost of their decommissioning.

Anything which uses large fiberglass panels is a candidate. Things such as:

  • Climbing walls
  • Slides and other play structures
  • Water Slides
  • Art Installations

There are a variety of alternative uses out there. Those are just some examples.

This is where the circular economy becomes so interesting for entrepreneurs. There is always money in someone else’s waste.

Working out how you make that money is the challenge. In the world of renewables, there is a huge opportunity to make money from waste.

In fact, in all industries, as we aim for a greener planet with less waste. The opportunities to fill in the blanks in the circular economy will increase.

Giving entrepreneurs like us more opportunities than ever before.


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