According to a new report by The Motley Fool, Waste Management Inc. is producing nearly as much energy as the entire US solar power industry. Currently, WM operates 130 energy projects throughout the country which produce a total of 9.8 gigawatts of electricity. The sum total of electricity produced by all solar companies in the US is just slightly ahead at 10 GW.
This narrow gap is attributed to differences in cost between building new solar power arrays and building new waste-to-energy facilities. Waste Management’s energy portfolio includes a large number of landfill gas systems that are installed on property owned by the company. Many new solar installations must first acquire land to build on, as well as either buy the solar panels or manufacture them, which is still an expensive process despite recent drops in solar prices.
Despite these differences in cost, Waste Management’s ability to produce so much energy, while technically not an energy company, is a remarkable feat. The company has been investing heavily in generators that can utilize methane gas from its landfills. Some of the company’s landfills are also equipped with facilities to convert landfill gas into liquified natural gas for use in commercial energy production. In addition, the company has made significant progress towards converting its fleet of trucks into natural-gas burners. The company is currently building a plant in Fairmont City, Illinois that will convert landfill gas into CNG, or compressed natural gas, to fuel its garbage trucks. CNG is a clean burning form of methane gas that can be used in modified diesel engines.
Going forward, Waste Management has set even loftier goals for its energy division. The company’s current energy production is enough to power 1.2 million homes, but plans to nearly double that production by 2020 to provide power to 2 million homes. While the use of landfill gas depends on trash dumps to work, it is still a much more beneficial use of methane compared to on-site burning. And as the renewable energy industry grows, it will continue to play a crucial role in reducing the use of fossil fuels for energy.