When we imagine our future, it’s easy to jump to flying cars, robots and holidays in space. One day we might be zooming around on hoverboards, but we need to look to our energy future to make all of this possible.
After all, a 2014 report by the Global Sustainability Institute estimated that the UK could run out of its own gas, coal and oil in just five years. And the problem stretches beyond our own country. It’s why governments across the globe are beginning to put climate change ambitions in place so that we can start to move towards a new kind of energy future. Renewables are certainly getting a lot of attention, and scientists are investigating weird and wonderful ways that we might be able to generate energy from jellyfish, coffee waste and other things you might not expect, as well as bolstering research into our existing methods – like wind, solar and geothermal energy.
With the eyes of the world watching, it’s time to get our thinking caps on. We’re looking at out what the future of energy might look like for us, our homes and our environment.
For your home (and community)
We think, it’s good news – the future of energy in our homes will be all about saving money, or even being paid! And that future might actually be closer than you think. The Government are aiming to have a smart meter in every UK home by 2020. Smart meters help you watch the pennies, because they send accurate meter readings straight to your energy provider – so you know you’re only paying for the energy you actually use.
Sounds good right? Well, the next steps are even smarter. A smart grid – a network that connects lots of smart devices together - allows the monitoring of energy usage on a larger scale. It will allow communities to be powered more efficiently by tweaking the amount of energy that’s supplied during on and off-peak times. Local generation is also possible – solar panels and wind turbines can be connected to the grid, so that energy production is local, renewable and cost-efficient. What’s more, this technology can be implemented on a city-wide scale, which means it will help the environment too…
For the environment
We all know how important it is to watch our carbon footprint. Here in the UK, we have a legally binding target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990). There are lots of ways we can do this – but renewable techniques and low-carbon options are leading the pack.
For starters, have you ever heard of a floating wind turbine? Well, environmentalists are building whole floating wind farms to reap the rewards of the stronger winds found further out to sea. Unlike their fixed cousins, floating wind turbines can be placed in deeper water and that means that they can take advantage of larger gusts. And even better, floating wind turbines don’t disrupt fishing or shipping. It’s win-win for everyone, especially the environment.
Then there are electric cars. Big news for car manufacturers and even bigger news for the environment, electric cars produce fewer greenhouse gases than traditional gas and diesel cars. There’s still a way to go to make electric cars viable for everyone – like reducing charging frequency, for example – but they could very well be the green vehicles of our future.
For the next generation
If you’re tech-mad, our energy future is sure to leave you feeling inspired. Scientists are investigating both ways of improving existing technologies, as well as new ways of generating energy.
Did you know, for example, that scientists are using aeronautical technology to make sure that the blades of a turbine extract as much energy from the wind as possible? Or did you know that robots can reposition solar panels depending on weather conditions? Although these technologies sound like something out of science fiction, they’re very real and are in development today.
For the final frontier
If you’re fascinated by space, then this one’s for you! Solar panels are more effective when they’re placed on satellites in space, because they can orbit the earth to stay in direct sunlight all the time. There are still some challenges to overcome (like how to limit energy loss during the transfer back to Earth), but Japan are aiming to transmit solar energy wirelessly from space by 2030.
So, where are we now?
New methods of generating energy are great, but there might not be one magical silver bullet that will solve all of our energy problems in the future. So the brainboxes of the energy world are also working on ways to revolutionise the way we store electricity – so we can control the flow of energy as and when we need to.
Battery storage will almost certainly be key. Already in use, innovative storage batteries can take energy from renewable or conventional sources and store it as electricity until it’s needed. So that on a sunny day, excess electricity generated by solar panels needn’t be wasted – it can be saved for cloudier days or evenings when less electricity will be produced. This means that renewable sources can become more ‘reliable’ and we can manage the production and distribution of energy, irrespective of external conditions.
With the generation, storage and distribution of energy all under consideration, our energy future is looking bright. From new methods of generating green energy, through to keeping costs low for customers, scientists are looking for new ways to transform the way we use energy. And if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you can already register your interest in smart meters with us.