The Hidden Price of Green Energy: How Much Renewable Energy Is Wasted?

Rodney Wiltshire
4 min readOct 11, 2023


In an era marked by growing environmental concerns and the pressing need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric power are hailed as the heroes of the energy transition. These clean energy alternatives are crucial in our fight against climate change. However, amidst the enthusiasm for renewables, there is a hidden cost that often goes unnoticed — the waste associated with renewable energy. This article explores the fascinating yet often overlooked aspect of how much renewable energy is wasted.

The Challenge of Renewable Energy Integration

Renewable energy sources are inherently intermittent. The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and rivers have varying flow rates. These fluctuations create a fundamental challenge: the energy generated only sometimes aligns with when and where it’s needed. This misalignment results in energy wastage.

Solar energy, for instance, is wasted when excess electricity is produced during peak sunshine hours, especially on sunny days, and there isn’t enough demand to absorb it. Similarly, wind energy can be lost when strong gusts generate more electricity than required. Hydropower, too, faces challenges when reservoirs overflow, causing water to be released without generating electricity.

Grid Strain and Curtailment

The intermittent nature of renewable energy sources can strain the power grid. Excess electricity that cannot be utilized or stored is often curtailed, so it’s discarded. Curtailment is more common in regions with high renewable energy penetration, and it results in significant waste.

In countries like China and the United States, where massive wind and solar farms have been built, curtailment rates can be substantial. These rates represent the percentage of clean energy that goes to waste. While grid upgrades and energy storage solutions like batteries can alleviate this issue, they are costly and not universally accessible.

Efficiency Loss in Energy Conversion

Energy conversion efficiency is another facet of renewable energy waste. When renewable energy sources are converted into electricity, some energy is lost in the process. For instance, photovoltaic solar panels are not 100% efficient; they capture and convert only a portion of the incoming sunlight into electricity. Similarly, wind turbines may not capture all the energy in the wind due to losses in transmission and conversion.

Efficiency losses vary depending on technology and the specific renewable energy source. In some cases, losses can be relatively low, but even a slight loss in efficiency can result in substantial waste when considering the large-scale deployment of renewable technologies.

Geographical Mismatch

Geographical mismatch is a significant contributor to renewable energy waste. The best renewable resources are often located far from population centers, where the energy demand is highest. This necessitates the construction of long-distance transmission lines, which are associated with energy losses during transportation.

For example, in the United States, the country’s abundant wind resources in the Great Plains are distant from major cities on the coasts. As a result, there is energy loss during transmission over long distances. Moreover, the energy must be curtailed if it cannot be efficiently transported to areas of high demand.

Energy Storage Challenges

Energy storage plays a crucial role in mitigating renewable energy waste. It allows excess energy to be stored for later use when renewable sources are not generating. However, energy storage technologies like batteries are still evolving and have limitations in terms of capacity, efficiency, and cost.

Energy storage solutions are only sometimes available, and their integration into the energy grid is complex. As a result, when there is an oversupply of renewable energy and inadequate storage options, significant waste can occur.

The Price of Reducing Waste

Addressing renewable energy waste requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves a combination of technological innovation, infrastructure development, and policy changes.

Advanced Grid Infrastructure: Upgrading the power grid to accommodate renewable energy flows more efficiently can reduce waste. Innovative grid technology, enhanced grid connectivity, and management systems can help match energy supply and demand more effectively.

Energy Storage Solutions: Developing and deploying energy storage technologies like advanced batteries, pumped hydro storage, and thermal energy storage can store excess energy for later use, reducing waste.

Predictive Analytics: Utilizing advanced data analytics and machine learning algorithms to forecast renewable energy generation can help grid operators plan and adjust energy distribution more effectively, reducing curtailment.

Demand Response Programs: Encouraging consumers to adjust their energy use patterns based on renewable energy availability can help align demand with supply, reducing waste.

Policy Support: Governments can incentivize the integration of renewables by offering subsidies, tax breaks, and other forms of support for renewable energy projects, energy storage initiatives, and grid upgrades.

Research and Innovation: Continued research and innovation in renewable energy technologies can improve energy conversion efficiency and reduce waste in the long term.

The journey towards a more sustainable and renewable energy future has its challenges. While renewable energy sources are undoubtedly crucial in reducing our carbon footprint and mitigating the effects of climate change, the issue of waste cannot be ignored. We must continue to address this challenge with technological advancements, infrastructure development, and supportive policies to minimize renewable energy waste’s environmental and economic costs. The dream of a greener, more sustainable world is within reach. Still, it requires a holistic approach that considers not only the generation of clean energy but also its efficient use and distribution.



Rodney Wiltshire

Rodney Wiltshire enjoys playing the guitar and singing, working out, reading history, hiking, and learning about cryptocurrency.