All over the world, our brightest and most creative minds are finding ways for us to produce fewer greenhouse gases and use renewable energy to its greatest potential with fascinating new technologies.
Sustainable Job InnovatorsFirst, it should be said that efforts to change how we live are also changing how we work. In the United States, the wind industry employed 101,738 people in 2016, which is up 32% from 2015 (U.S. Department of Energy). And what is the fastest-growing American job of the decade? Wind turbine technician. This is not surprising considering that over 74% of U.S. congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities. (American Wind Energy Association)
As for employment in the solar industry, the U.S. Department of Energy recently released a report stating that solar industry employment jumped by over 73,000 jobs or 25% in 2016. It should be noted that this growth is not evenly distributed across the U.S. For instance, 41% of all solar jobs are located in California, whereas 24% of all wind jobs are in Texas, a state that is traditionally known for oil and gas employment.
One of the more famous clean energy employers is Elon Musk. He has now started taking orders for the new solar powered roof just last month in April. Musk’s new solar roof shingles turn sunlight into energy and are expected to be competitive with traditional asphalt ones, in that Tesla’s creation will have the added value of free, clean electricity for their 30 year life expectancy. (Inhabitat)
Of course, solar panels are not a new technology, but using photon recycling to increase the efficiency of the cells is an exciting new field of research. At MIT, researchers have been looking at how solar cells could break the theoretical maximum efficiency rate, called the Shockley-Queisser limit. The Shockley-Queisser limit is based on standard cells that are typically made of silicon and can only capture light from the violet to red spectrum, but imagine a cell that did not lose the remaining sunlight range. This is where research into “hot solar cells” gets interesting. Hot solar cells turn sunlight into heat and then convert the heat back into light. This process has the potential to make cells twice as efficient as today’s current standard. For a more detailed explanation of how these cells work, see MIT Technology Review’s “10 Breakthrough Technologies.”
Deutsche ACCUmotive, a Daimler subsidiary, is also aiming to accelerate the transition to renewable energy generation with its stationary energy storage technology for use in private homes. Homes with solar panels will be able to store excess electricity, allowing them to increase their self-consumption of generated energy to as much as 65 percent, thereby bringing about their own "private energy revolution." Without such a system, homes have been feeding their excess energy back to the grid or paying high peak rates. These new private home storage systems can store 2.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) or up to 20 kWh when eight battery modules are combined. A complete system will be comprised of solar panels, a battery inverter, energy management and the Mercedes-Benz energy storage unit, plus the cost of installation with an estimated price of US$10,000. (New Atlas) These energy storage systems will be available for ordering in the US in the coming months.
Further into the future are some wind turbines that are nothing like the kind you are used to seeing. When you picture wind turbines, you probably envision ones like those in the photo above. Wind power usually comes in the form of a turbine that moves in a circular motion, but a North African company, called Tyer Wind, has created a turbine that moves in a figure-eight motion. Tyer Wind uses a biomimicry design that is meant to replicate the motion of hummingbird wings, resulting in a product that generates energy on the upstroke and the downstroke. This creative innovation is still in the early stages of testing, but for a sneak peek, I recommend viewing the promotional video on Tyer Wind’s website.
Another exciting innovator in the field of wind power is a Finnish clean technology and engineering company. Norsepower has created a spinning cylinder to capture wind power to propel ships, while cutting fuel costs and reducing emissions. The principle behind the design of the rotor sail is the Magnus effect, where a spinning object accelerates the air around one side, creating a difference in pressure that moves it in the direction of the lower-pressure side. In March, it was announced that two of these new “sails” will be tested on one of Maersk’s tankers. According to Norsepower, these rotor sails have the potential to reach a fuel savings of up to 20%.
Road to the Future
Just a few years ago, ideas for a solar bike path or a solar road were met with criticism and a lack of enthusiasm. However, the solar bike path created by SolaRoad in the Netherlands is now being expanded, with the addition of a “smart bench” for charging smartphones and e-bikes, and the three-year pilot project of this concept is expected to be completed in 2018. Meanwhile, Wattway unveiled a kilometer of solar roadway in Normandy, France last year and the first solar road in Canada is expected to begin construction this summer in Kamloops, BC.
The road ahead may be paved with materials we cannot conceive of today, and we may travel down that path in a vehicle that hasn’t yet been invented, but in the words of Albert Einstein, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Jane Dunne is a Senior Editor for Specialty Technical Publishers. She works on a diverse catalogue of environmental publications that are recognized across North America as effective tools to ensure regulatory compliance with complex requirements.
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