- Worldwide power consumption is set to double by 2050 placing an even greater urgency on green energy sources becoming available to the masses
- UK must slash global environmental footprint by 75% this decade – WWF report
- UK government sets climate change target law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels
Experts warn the clock is ticking; we must drastically reduce our carbon impact or face the consequences. New research from energy experts at money.co.uk reveals ten innovative alternative energy sources that could soon be powering our homes, our cars, and our lives.
As the demand for energy advances, comprehensive wealth increases and our overall power consumption is set to double by 2050*, the need for alternative sources of energy is undeniable. Funding for research into renewable energy sources took a huge hit last year due to the pandemic and, unfortunately, time is not on our side in the fight against climate change.
We are currently in the ‘climate change decade’, the timeframe in which many experts believe we need to make big changes with regards to the energy we use before it’s too late. New government climate change targets have been set out and significant investments are being made into research projects across the globe trialling unconventional energy usage solutions, to provide cheap, green energy plans to the masses.
Poo power – Kingston Upon Thames, UK
Insight reveals 2,000 new homes in Kingston Upon Thames are set to be powered by poo, otherwise known as biogas energy, a groundbreaking scheme that utilises human waste in sewage plants to generate electricity led by Thames Water. With the ability to reduce millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year, the scheme has the potential to provide clean, green heating to new homes and, if successful, is expected to be a model for similar schemes across the UK. Whilst scientists at Bristol University have recently submitted plans for a first-of-its-kind residential setting to trial their newly harnessed ‘pee power’ technology.
Sarah Bentley, Thames Water CEO, said: “Not only do we provide life’s essential service, clean and fresh drinking water to millions of customers every day, but we also create reliable, affordable, and sustainable power by processing sewage. For us, the next stop is net zero.”
“Achieving this target will require us to explore innovative new solutions and technology, led by our net-zero task force of experts from across the business. We don’t yet have all the answers and our plans will evolve, but it’s a challenge we’re all relishing to enable our customers, communities, and the environment to thrive.”
Dance floors to boil your kettle – Rotterdam, Netherlands
Kinetic floor tiles are the latest technology when it comes to energy harvesting from innovative sources: the tiles transform footsteps into electricity, which can power everything from street lighting to interactive adverts. This transformative technology is already being used in nightclubs in Japan and there are attempts to distribute this new energy source out on a wider scale (think pavements and offices). The London Underground already features these clever tiles to generate energy, so it won’t be long before we see (and step on) more of these in everyday life.
Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde and his team of designers and engineers work to connect people and technology in bespoke artworks: ones that improve daily life in urban environments, spark imagination, and fight the climate crisis. They even created an interactive dance floor for a nightclub in Rotterdam, that generates electricity through the act of dancing. The sustainable dance floor produces up to 25 watts per module, meaning that the generated energy can be used to power the lighting and DJ booth.
Turn your pee into energy – Bristol, UK
Developed by Bristol University, Microbial Fuel Cell energy is set to be trialled for the first time in a residential setting this year. The property in question will be the only home in the world to use pee power as an energy source for electricity.
Bristol BioEnergy Centre Director, Professor Ioannis A. Ieropoulos, who worked on the trial, comments: “I think there is a real desire for schemes like ours, we’ve had generally very positive feedback as people seem to be open to the prospect of converting waste directly into electricity. In terms of how quickly this could be rolled out, every time we demonstrate a successful installation, we get closer to wider-scale implementation, but in order for this to become the norm, it will need to form part of new planning and building legislation.”
Cocoa shell energy – Ivory Coast, West Africa
After successful pilot projects, Ivory Coast has begun work this year on a biomass plant that will run on cocoa waste. The facility will be based in Divo, a town that produces a large share of the country’s cocoa. Cocoa plant matter left over after cocoa production will be burned in the biomass plant, helping to turn a turbine and generate electricity, much like a conventional fossil-fuel power plant.
“This plant alone will be able to meet the electricity needs of 1.7 million people,” says Yapi Ogou, managing director of the Ivorian company Société des Energies Nouvelles (Soden), which is involved in building the plant.
Solar roads – Germany
The first solar roads trialled in France unfortunately crumbled, but scientists in Germany and Austria think they have a better solution. The solar highway features solar panels on a canopy over existing highways.
There’s a three-year plan in place to explore how they can cover the 13,000km highway network, but based on the power consumption of Germany in 2019, a solar highway would cover 9% of total power consumption. That’s equivalent to ⅓ of energy needed to power each and every home. The plan isn’t straightforward, as highways always have tunnels, bridges and areas with shade to contend with.
Crematorium powered electricity, UK
In the UK 79% of people are now cremated, which is around 470,000 people each year spread across the UK’s 300 crematoriums – a single cremation alone is able to power over 1,500 televisions!
A crematorium in Durham was the first to use the ambient heat from the cremation process to power electricity in the crematorium’s church. Since then, the Aalborg crematorium in Denmark has made money by selling heat to nearby villages and another in Redditch, UK, warms the waters of a nearby swimming pool with the heat it produces.
There’s a whole new industry to support this unusual way of generating renewable energy, as a Spanish company called Kalfrisa supplies cremation kilns embedded with heat recovery systems.
Jellyfish energy, Sweden
With more power than just a swift sting, beyond the human body, jellyfish could become the next big renewable energy source. The key lies in a jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein (GFP), which is what gives some jellyfish their eerie glow. This substance reacts to UV light and excites electrons.
Whilst the first discoveries were made through having to blend Jellyfish together, scientists are now able to isolate the protein and synthesise it in a lab, making it an altogether more vegan-friendly option. The process of making solar panels is very energy-intensive. If this silicon could be replaced with jellyfish GFP, this energy-consuming process could be lessened.
Seaweed powered cars – Scotland, UK
A car powered by Scottish seaweed has successfully completed a 50-mile journey as part of an international project to develop greener fuels. The vehicle set off from the Danish Technological Institute in the city of Aarhus and took a test drive on typical city roads and motorways to allow scientists to see how it performed.
It was part of an EU-funded project called MacroFuels, which has been developing cleaner alternatives to standard petrol and diesel by making biofuels derived from seaweed and algae.
Body warmth heated malls – Minneapolis, US
One of the biggest Malls in America (it has its own zip code) the Mall of America in Minneapolis is warmed in part by recycled heat from its shoppers. The only heated areas are the entranceways, so the rest of the mall cleverly uses lighting fixtures, skylights and body heat from over 109,000 average daily visitors and store staff. This system does such a good job that even in the winter where the outside temperature can go below freezing, the mall uses an air conditioning system to keep it at a comfy 21 degrees/ 70F temperature for shoppers.
Cows wearing backpacks – Argentina
Along with other greenhouse gases produced by the agricultural industry, the sector is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. A dairy cow produces 110kg of methane every year. It takes two beef cows to produce the same amount. One way to reduce this impact is to eat less meat and dairy. Another would be to harvest the gas cows emit and use it for energy. Scientists in Argentina have attempted the latter, with a rather euphemistically named ‘methane backpack’ to collect this fuel.
With more than 55 million cows, Argentina is a leading producer of beef. Methane from cows, which also comes from landfills and coal mines, is 23 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. It’s why researchers attached balloon-like plastic packs to the backs of ten cows. Each pack had a tube from the animal’s stomach that collected the gas.
Whilst the backpacks are a bit of a novelty, there is a very real opportunity to generate electricity from methane digesters on dairy farms which can be used on site. This captures the methane from manure and reduces the farmer’s energy costs. The surplus can then be sold to a public or private utility, replacing the need for power from fossil-fuel plants.
Green energy advances – UK
Also helping in the battle against climate change are professors and students at Universities across the UK, who are also comparing energy from unconventional sources, from aeroplane vibrations to tidal wave power.
Ben Gallizzi, energy expert at money.co.uk, comments: “With energy consumption set to double by 2050*, we set out to find the most interesting energy trials and green energy schemes from the world’s best scientists. We were fascinated to find out that in the not-so-distant future dancing in your kitchen could power your kettle and the waste from your bathroom might be used to power your shower.
“One of the main advantages of green energy sources is that they don’t require transportation or associated fuel costs. This is often taken into account by electricity suppliers, meaning better electricity prices for the end consumer.
“With the UK government’s ambitious climate change target to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, the UK could be three-quarters of the way to achieving net-zero by 2050. This could mean big changes to what consumers look for when searching for the best green energy deals in the future and imagine what our energy comparison sites might look like by 2035 if we are comparing energy deals on poo power Vs Pee Power?”