Let’s start with some statistics. Over 20% of the UK’s electricity is generated from renewable sources each year – and EU targets mean this is likely to rise to 30% by 2020.
Wind, geothermal and solar technologies are all pretty familiar sources of environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral energy. But what if you could also get alternative power from the drinks we drink, life in our oceans and even from our own bodies?
This isn’t something we’re imagining for the future – it’s happening right now. Excited? You should be. Here’s our countdown of the 9 coolest and most unconventional ways to generate energy, plus what the future might look like as a result... Buckle up.
Probably the most exciting of all for the science geeks amongst us. Nanotechnology – meaning the study of small things – is revolutionising solar energy. By designing special particles for the photovoltaic process, scientists can increase efficiency and the amount of energy produced. And the best thing? Nanotechnology won’t only transform energy sources, but it can help revolutionise the energy chain from distribution to usage as well.
2. Natural body heat
No, we don’t mean huddling like penguins instead of putting the heating on! Instead, cities are using a far more sophisticated method to get heat out of packed trains and stuffy underground platforms. London, Paris and Stockholm are taking advantage of the sweaty commute by harnessing the natural heat emitted by lots of bodies in tight insulated spaces. Station ventilation systems in city stations have been configured to convert excess heat into hot water. The hot water is then pumped to nearby buildings to be used as a heating source. Clever, right?
3. Boogying and working out
Get ready to throw some shapes – dancing the night away in a club or working hard on the treadmill can actually be good for the environment. Attaching special crystals to a moving surface (like a dancefloor) generates piezoelectricity – the fancy word for a type of kinetic energy generated by the compression of those special crystals. Currently, you don’t get all that much energy from piezoelectricity, but it’s something scientists are keen to investigate further. Another reason to bust some killer moves…
4. Your morning coffee
You might think it’s a good way to get your motor running on a morning, but did you know coffee could also power your actual car? Researchers at Bath University not only found that waste coffee grounds are a viable energy source, but that just 10kg of coffee could make up to two litres of biofuel. The science behind it is pretty simple – just soak the grounds in a special oil to extract the biofuel. And because this process uses a common waste product, the potential to scale up this discovery is huge.
Whilst we’re on the subject of drink, the clever Swedes came up with a way to use confiscated alcohol to power trains. In 2006, over 700,000 litres of alcohol were smuggled across Sweden to avoid the country’s high alcohol tax. But instead of pouring the illegal drinks down the drain, the council developed a power plant to turn them into biogas. The superfuel now powers 1,000 trucks and buses, as well as a train. Not bad, considering the product used to be just thrown away.
The stinging critters in our oceans aren’t just interesting to marine biologists – energy researchers think they’re pretty special too! Glowing jellyfish contain something called the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP, for short) that can be used to produce power. When a droplet of this green goo is placed in a special silicon circuit and exposed to ultraviolet light, electrons will flow around the circuit and electricity is produced. It’s a cheap alternative to solar power because it doesn’t rely on expensive material – just living cells - to work.
The secret to our future could lie in the green microorganisms in our planet’s waters. Microalgae store energy as oil, and if this oil is extracted under the right conditions, it can be refined into a useable biofuel. Because algae is so plentiful across the world, the potential to mass produce this renewable energy source could be huge – indeed, experts estimate that algae could be up to 100 times more productive than traditional bioenergy sources. Not bad for organisms so small they can only be seen through a microscope…
The average adult spends 23 hours per week texting. That’s massive – so in 2008, the ‘Push to Charge’ phone went down a storm at the Greener Gadgets Design Competition. When you text on the phone, the buttons press a hammer. This generates voltage inside the phone and carries energy to the battery for storage. Whilst this is a clever way to charge your phone, it also shows the potential for other electronic devices to use the same techniques to produce energy through everyday tasks. Sign us up!
Whilst these technologies might not be able to power your whole house like their more established cousins (solar and wind energy) just yet, the future is looking pretty spectacular. And as scientists continue to investigate new plausible ways of generating energy, it seems like body heat, algae and nanotechnology are just the beginning.
To get a little bit of new tech in your own home, contact us about our Feed-In-Tariffs. It might not be as weird and wacky as jellyfish and nanotechnology, but it will certainly help you move towards renewable energy on a personal level! Feed-In-Tariffs allow you to generate your own low-carbon power and at E.ON, and we’ll even pay you for the energy you produce. If you’d like more information on Feed-In-Tariffs, visit the government website here.