Renewable energy has been around for thousands of years. Your smartphone that's currently plugged-in to the power outlet is likely to be drawing power from a renewable source of energy. However, this has become so mainstream that we no longer take a time to just think about the true potential of renewable energy. We've been rather sluggish in embracing renewable energy as our main source of energy rather than as backup, but that has changed. In recent years, a lot of awareness has been made on how important renewable energy is. If you're thinking Tesla and Powerwall, then you know what we're getting at. The sad fact is that we only get to hear about what big corporations are doing regarding renewable energy, but the truth is that there is a world of infinite possibilities if we were to switch to renewable energy. Well, today, let's change that narrative a bit and look at 10 things that are not so common about renewable energy.
In 2016, two Swiss scientists/pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed a Solar Impulse 2 aircraft in Abu Dhabi after flying around the world for slightly over 500 days. The aircraft flew over 42,000 Km while being powered by about 17,000 solar cells located on its wings. The batteries, which make up about 25% of the aircraft's weight, charged up during the day to produce the much-needed energy for flight.
The plane flew at a speed of around 100 Km/h and could even go faster than that when the sun was much brighter. The pilots used to fly to attitudes of about 29,000 ft during the day and dropped down to about 5,000 ft during the night to preserve energy. The two pilots used to alternate the flights regularly to allow the other to rest. Borschberg flew the aircraft non-stop from Japan to Hawaii making it the longest journey in history without a layover.
Even though the aircraft experienced some technical problems and challenges due to weather, it still managed to make two world records. After the successful landing in Abu Dhabi, UN Secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said, "This is a historic day for Captain Piccard and the Solar Impulse team, but it is also a historic day for humanity. You may be ending your around the world flight today, but the journey to a more sustaining world is just beginning.
The Solar Impulse team is helping us to pilot to that future." In the end, it successfully finished its route making it the first aircraft to fly using solar energy.
MHI Vestas is a Danish company that specializes in offshore turbines. It was able to produce 9.5 MW of energy that can power 8,300 homes in the UK where it is located. This will help to reduce maintenance and operation costs as it will be able to achieve the same power output with lesser turbines. Its wind farm has about 90 turbines located close to the Irish Sea and is able to power about 600,000 homes with the same intensity as coal powered electricity.
Europe is currently the world's largest consumer of wind energy as EU companies are constantly developing bigger and more powerful wind turbines. GE Renewable Energy has already set plans for the world's largest offshore wind turbine which is 260 meters tall, with a 107 meters long blade and a capacity of 12 MW.
The GE chairman and CEO John Flannery said, "We want to lead in the technologies that are driving in the global energy transition. Offshore wind is one of those technologies and we will bring the full resources of GE to make the program a success for our customers." He also said one turbine could produce about 67 GWh per year and this is enough to power over 16,000 households.
In December 2016, the French government unveiled a 1 Km road covered by solar panels to provide electricity for street lights and a population of about 5,000 citizens living in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche. The trial road called Wattway cost about $5.2 million to construct. Wattway was expected to produce 767 KWh per day and was estimated to produce 280 MW of energy annually, but it managed to produce about 410 KWh per day which is still phenomenal.
There are also other countries that have been experimenting with solar roads including the Netherlands and China. Constructing solar roads in a country like UK would be extremely expensive due its unfavorable weather conditions most of the time.
When asked about the solar roads, Marc Jedzilcka, the Vice President for Network for Energy Transition, said, "It's no doubt a technical advance, but in order to produce renewables there are other priorities that need consideration apart from a gadget that is very expensive."
While the solar project in France didn't reach its goals, it has exceeded expectations in other countries. Netherlands is a good example. A solar paneled-bike path in the country generated 70KWh per sqm after one year. This is enough to power 3 houses. The solar sidewalk in Budapest is equally a marvel as it helps to charge electric cars and when it's not doing that, it helps to power the nearby offices.
It is worth noting that the Wattway solar panels are covered with a resin coated with silicon so they can withstand the heavy traffic from vehicles and occasional bad weather.
Below the earth's crust is a layer of magma where heat is always produced from decay of naturally radioactive materials such as potassium and uranium. The heat within about 10 Km of the earth's surface has more than 50,000 times more energy than all the natural gas resources in the world.
The world's largest producer of geothermal power is the USA, but some of the countries with largest national distribution of geothermal include Kenya at (51.0%), Iceland (30%), Philippines (27.0%), El Salvador (25%) and New Zealand at (14.5%). With such figures, one would only wonder why geothermal energy is not mainstream.
The country is usually relatively clean with most of its garbage either recycled or burnt instead of getting dumped. This in turn, creates diligent citizens who are mindful about proper garbage disposal.
The garbage is thereafter burnt in the waste-to-energy plants and later used to provide heat for the 1.2 million residents in apartments and another 600,000 households. This saves the people costs on running their own boilers or furnaces. Apart from electricity and heat, Sweden has a system of recycling organic foods and waste to produce biogas which fuels more than 200 buses in the cities as well as garbage trucks and even private vehicles. They have digital sensors that can highlight green bags which carry organic waste and send them to the nearest biogas plant.
Sweden isn't the only country that handles their own waste. Other developed countries like Japan and China also burn their trash and while the method doesn't promote clean energy, it's able to prevent toxins and harmful gases that pollute the air when thrown to a dump site. Garbage dump sites are hazardous as they carry diseases to the poor people who go to scavenge for food. Evidently, this initiative brings more good than bad.
In a report released by the Global Commission on the GeoPolitics of Energy Transformation, the group chairman Olafur Grimsson says, "No country has put itself in a better position to become the world's renewable superpower than China."
The report says that China is now the world's largest producer, exporter and installer of electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. Mr. Grimsson, who is the former President of Iceland, says "The renewables revolution enhances the global leadership of China, reduces the influence of fossil fuels and brings energy independence to countries around the world. This transformation brings enormous power shifts."
China plans to spend $360 billion in renewable energy by 2020. Although it is the world's greatest producer of renewable power especially in hydro, wind and solar, its needs are still so high that it can only supply for about 30% of all demand from renewable. That's why China is still a large consumer of coal and natural gas. Thus, the rest of demand can be supplied by the coal power plants.
Hydrogen is usually considered as a clean energy that reduces the amount of pollution and toxins from greenhouse gases. At the same time, its produce is expensive and requires large amounts of energy hence not widely used. However, some Australians recently found a way by using sunlight and water vapor.
The process is done by painting some chemicals onto roofs and certain surfaces. The chemical compounds absorb moisture from the air and the solar energy thereafter splitting the water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen which can thereafter be used as fuel.
The paint is not commercially available for another 5 years but the fact that its applicable to bricks, roofs, fences and any surfaces that trap air makes it efficient once it's in public. It could also be used in places that are far away from water and still produce fuel.
All the electricity humans use in a year is about 410 quintillion joules while the sun produces about 430 quintillion joules per hour. With the proper abilities to harness that kind of energy, the earth would never have a shortage of power for everyday consumption.
The greatest challenge scientists are facing right now is to create the best energy storage to capture all that heat to be used for the less sunny days. Also, another issue is that the solar panels used in homes can only convert up to 14% of the light energy into electrical energy.
While there have been some new ones which can now trap 20% of solar, they won't be in the mainstream market for another couple of years. This means that while one day it's possible to capture all the energy from the sun, it's going to take quite some time, a lot of funds and inspirations for it to be a reality.
In last quarter of 2016, Elon Musk announced his solar panel roofing in which consumers would not need to bother with the typical solar panels. He stated that the roofs are sleek and beautiful making it hard to even know that they are solar-powered homes. Elon went ahead and claimed that he and another Tesla executive had already installed the roofs in their homes.
The roofs, which are made of quartz glass are projected to be hard enough to withstand any damage. Tesla is so confident about this to an extent that the Tesla Solar Roofing issues their clients with an infinite warranty once they purchase the tiles from them. While the project has been slow to kickstart, some of the first people in their waiting list have already experienced the beauty and efficiency of clean renewable energy.
While the prices are not cheap – a little less than $44,000 for a 2,000 square foot. House – the roofs look better than those with traditionally installed solar panels. Elon said that the project may take longer to fully be available for mass market because they want to ensure the roofs can be durable enough to last for at least 30 years.
After installation of the roof, you can additionally purchase a solar battery to store the charge during cold/cloudy seasons or when you have too much excess power. However, to reduce such situations, before installation Tesla asks for your recent electricity bills to know exactly how many tiles your home needs.
One thing is for sure though. Getting a 100% solar panel covered roof would be overkill. This is because it would not only be expensive, but also wasteful since you wouldn't have any use for that excess power at home. In addition, since the Tesla tiles are super hard and durable, it's very hard to cut the tiles into uniform sizes. The tiles, which can be found on the edges of the roof, can be smaller than those found in the middle. Eventually, whether you have 30% or 50% solar tiles, no one can tell a difference because they are all made of one material.
If you thought that flying planes was the end of it, think again. V.J. Kurian pioneered the Cochin Airport project in 2013 due to the high electricity bills they were being slapped with occasionally. Kurian, who is the managing director said, "We started with the 100 KW pilot project. We found we could produce about 400 KW of power. Then we thought, why don't we scale it up? Why don't we make the whole airport completely solar powered?"
Cochin, the busiest airport in Kerala, and the seventh busiest airport in India, can generate 29.5 MW of solar power, and it has plans of scaling this up to 40 MW later. The airport also handles over 10 million passengers every year and was even awarded the Champions of Earth Award for Entrepreneurial Vision by The United Nations in 2018. Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of United Nations Environment Program talking with Kurian commented that, "Previous Champion Laureates range from World Leaders to inspiring scientists - all visionaries who drive the world closer to its aspiration of environmental sustainability and a life of dignity for all."
Beneath the solar panels the Cochin Airport has planted crops to grow which, in 2018 alone, produced about 60 tons of vegetables and sold. This is an incredible feat for a project that begun only as a small-scale experiment.
All in all, a lot has been achieved through renewable energy. Great feats are being accomplished every day and it is now more of a reality that renewable energy is the future. It's time we all actively maximized these resources for the improvement of our own personal lives and that of our planet, Earth.
As you may have noticed, there are so many reasons why all countries and organizations are advocating for us to use renewable energy. First, it's because it is renewable. This means that earth is constantly able to produce and replenish herself without much struggle. Second, it is clean energy meaning that it does not produce greenhouse gases. With this, the ozone layer will be saved, and mankind will have a new appreciation for a cleaner, pollution-free Earth as this will reduce global warming.