Could Wave Power Satisfy our Energy Needs?

12 Apr

The UK is a great location for wave power and it is often argued that marine energy converters could offer a more consistent source of energy in comparison to alternative clean energy sources. Researchers at the College of Engineering at the Oregon State University have recently established a new analysis that suggests wave power could also prove to be a cheaper alternative to its renewable energy equivalents. The new analysis has suggested that large-scale wave power arrays could balance out supply and demand by not putting a substantial amount of pressure on the grid.

What do we already know about wave energy? An advantage to wave energy is that it will never run out. There will always be waves crashing upon the shores of nations, near the populated coastal regions. The waves flow back from the shore, but they always return. Unlike fossil fuels, creating power from waves creates no harmful by-products such as gas, waste, and pollution. The energy from waves can be taken directly into electricity-producing machinery and used to power generators and power plants nearby. In today’s energy-powered world, we know a source of clean energy is hard to come by.

Waves are hardly interrupted and are almost always in motion. This makes generating electricity from wave energy a reasonable reliable energy source (at least when you compare them to solar and wind). Beneficially, the energy density is typically around 30-40 kW for every meter (2.2 feet) of wave along the shore. As we go further into the ocean 100kW for every meter is not uncommon. A wave farm that is occupying less than a half square mile of an ocean could generate more than 30 MW of power, the equivalent of 20,000 British homes.

Let’s take a look at the other advantages of wave power:


  • Low Operating Costs – Once installed there are few ongoing operating costs or labour costs, unless there is a device breakdown.
  • No material resources are used or changed in the production of wave power, making it a truly renewable power form.
  • Most wave power devices are installed mostly or fully submerged in water. By installing the devices far enough from shore there is minimal “damage of water views” that has been associated with offshore wind turbines.
  • It offers shoreline protection, as capturing the kinetic energy of the tide will lead to less power crashing into the shore, which should help prevent damage to the shoreline.
  • Most wave power devices operate at optimal efficiency levels regardless of the direction of the waves.

Similar to most good things, wave power does come with a number of disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage to getting your energy from the waves is location. Only power plants and towns near the ocean will benefit directly from it. Because of its source, wave energy is not a viable power source for everyone. Landlocked nations and cities far from the sea have to find alternate sources of power, so wave energy is not the clean energy solution for everyone. Other disadvantages include:


  • The high cost of device and associated power products could lengthen the payback period and be cost prohibitive based on the characteristics and size of each project.
  • Sea life could be harmed or have habitats disrupted or displaced. The machines disturb the seafloor, changing the habitat of near-shore creatures (like crabs and starfish) and create noise that disturbs the sea life around them.
  • Strong ocean storms and salt water corrosion can damage the devices, which could increase the cost of construction to increase durability and/or cause frequent breakdowns. This especially holds true with the increased complexity of the devices.
  • Aesthetically unpleasing, the overtopping devices could produce a loud, constant noise. This noise is unlikely going to be significantly louder than the waves would make on their own.
  • The performance of wave power drops significantly during rough weather. They must withstand rough weather.

Installers should consider the pros and cons of this energy source and consider who and what they may be disturbing. Who knows what the future holds for wave power!


Milan Plans To Pay Commuters Who Cycle To Work

23 Mar

In December last year, the city of Milan in Italy had to ban cars from the city centre due to such high levels of smog in the air. The city also had to ban their traditional end of year firework displays and so they decided to offer discount to commuters in the way of “anti-smog” tickets on public transport. While last year’s smog was unusually heavy, air pollution is nothing new to the residents of Milan. In 2008, Milan was named Europe’s most polluted city, and it has continued to be one of the worst on the continent since then.

Milan’s geography means that the city is particularly likely to suffer from smog. Due to it being in a valley, air pollution often gets confined in the city. With the past winter being especially dry and warm, the smog will have worsened. The city could experience an emerging pattern as climate change deepens. Milan is already routinely ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the EU.

With this in mind the city now plans to take another step closer to getting people out of their cars on a more permanent basis by paying commuters who choose to ride a bike. The plan to promote cycling is borrowed from a similar system tried in France in 2014, where employees were paid 25 cents for each kilometre they pedalled to work. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have all also tried paying commuters to bike, at rates equivalent to about 30 cents a mile, tax-free.

Milan’s idea is to pay a higher amount to provide an improved incentive for commuters, but because of the money involved, the city needs a way to validate that people who claim to be biking to work are telling the truth. A possible answer may lay within our smartphones. They plan to implement an app that will track the speed of a commuters trip to work but the problem with this is the heavy amount of traffic on Milan’s roads. Bikers could potentially move faster than drivers anyway.

Milan is currently weighing up all of the options. “We are planning to do something similar,” says Pierfrancesco Maran (Milan’s mobility councillor). “To give direct money to those who go to work by bike, or to give them some other sustainable-mobility incentive.”

Even though there’s an obvious cost involved, Maran argues that it makes sense to encourage people to bike the same way that the government supports options such as public transport. “If we look at mobility all together, for example, even half of the cost of public transport is contributed by national funds,” he says. “So we will give a little money as an incentive for citizens to know that cycling is healthier than cars, and can be a good alternative in a flat city like Milan.”

Over the last few years change has been at the forefront as the city has seen a 50% increase in bike lanes and a doubled number of bike sharing stations, which more and more people are riding. A congestion charge for drivers in the city centre has been enforced which has led to a 20% increase in public transport use over the last four years. Paying people to bike on its own may not make a huge difference, but it’s part of a larger plan that does seem to be working. “Something is changing in the behaviour of citizens,” says Maran. “We want to help it change faster.”

Experts are however sceptical that the financial incentives will do much to change the way people in Milan commute. Although more cycling routes are being built, it is argued that the city is not necessarily bike friendly in all areas.

milan, italy, cycling, bicycle infrastructure, commuting, air pollution, smog, europe

Las Vegas To Go Green With Solar-Kinetic Street Lights

10 Mar

Las Vegas are making waves in the renewable energy market as they plan to install the world’s first solar-kinetic street lights at Boulder Plaza in the city of Las Vegas. Around the world today, there are more than 300 million street lights, many of which are powered by electricity generated from high carbon sources such as coal. Now, Las Vegas isn’t new to the renewable energy game, they recently installed a massive new solar plant in the Nevada desert. The Crescent Dunes concentrated solar power project is providing power to Sin City around the clock.

Around 40% of the energy used is wasted through poor lighting efficiency; contributing to another environmental problem, light pollution. Now, light pollution is not something to be ignored, it can lead to a change in the migration and reproductive activities of some animals and boost air pollution through light’s interaction with certain chemicals. Light doesn’t respect boundaries, it can spread for miles from the source and blurs the distinction between town and country. Light spilling up into the night sky is also a waste of energy and money. In the UK local authorities were estimated to spend £616 million on street lighting in 2013-14, and the lights can account for between 15-30% of a council’s carbon emissions. Efficient solar powered lighting can provide a solution to some of these issues.

EnGoPlanet is set to install the solar-kinetic lights at Boulder Plaza, which it claims will be the first ever installation in the world of the technology. They are powered by combining energy harvested from pedestrian’s footsteps and the sun. In short, when a pedestrian steps on a kinetic tile situated near the base of the light, energy is created that then charges a battery. 180 watts or 360 watts of high-efficiency solar cells are placed on top of each LED street light, along with motion sensors that allow for light on demand.

The product does more than just provide light. As Petar Microvic (CEO of EnGoPlanet) went on to say, “If you look at traditional street light poles, you will see that they are useless. They simply hold the lighting,” He added, ” With our solution, we’ve changed that by incorporating useful features into the pole and transforming it into a free service spot where people can rest, charge their portable devices, or connect to WiFi.”

The lights will also have smart sensors that observe air quality and traffic as well as video surveillance. The LED lights can change colours for special occasions and there is a wireless charging and WiFi hot spot for smart devices, along with two USB ports.

“Currently, street lights in the world release more than 100 million tons of CO2 per year. Our generation has the moral responsibility to transform our energy system. EnGoPlanet’s Street Light will revolutionise the way we illuminate streets. It will reduce CO2 emission, lower maintenance bills and with many new features, it will make cities smarter,” Petar Mirovic said in a statement.

Solar lighting isn’t just green – it can save money. EnGoPlanet mentions the example of Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, which installed solar lights and saved around 20 percent of the cost of a conventional system due to the avoidance of wiring and trenching works. The College is now saving more than £5600 per year.

Solar Kinetic Light

Could fungi found in the guts of cows and elephants power the future?

23 Feb

According to a group of researchers at the Agricultural Centre of Sustainable Energy Systems (ACSES) at the Harper Adams University in Shropshire, a cow’s digestive system could revolutionise renewable energy. The group believe that the answer to effective biomass conversion lives within the stomachs of cows, sheep and elephants. The group believe that if they could imitate their digestive systems, then they could create a streamlined, cost effective biomass generator. Have we had the answer all along?

Leader of the Agricultural Centre of Sustainable Energy Systems, Professor Theodorou, is amongst the group of scientists researching the potential benefits of the ‘gut fungi’ inside the stomachs of herbivores including elephants and cows. He said: “Renewable technologies are looking to use renewable plant biomass resources for chemical and fuel production, making us less reliant on fossil fuel.” He also went on to say:

“The objective of our work was to find an alternative, more straight-forward platform, mimicking the conversion of plant biomass to useful products in nature.

“In our work so far, we have identified hundreds of enzymes from the gut fungi, which have commercial biotechnology potential. It is because these fungi are able to survive in such a highly-competitive microbial ecosystem, where a myriad of protagonists seek to degrade plant biomass, that we believe they are so effective at their job.” Currently, commercial biomass facilities use genetically-modified enzymes from aerobic fungi such as Trichoderma and Aspergillus. They can digest plant biomass which, following fermentation of the released sugars, produces products such as bio-ethanol. This procedure however requires chemical pre-treatments to remove lignin from plants. The good news is that anaerobic fungi are found in the digestive tract of wild and domesticated herbivores, from elephants to cattle.

“We have so far shown that some of these enzymes are substantially better than the current solution at converting plant biomass to sugars. We need to invest more resources to study this group of relatively unknown microorganisms. They may hold the key to the renewable technology of effective biomass conversion. Their full potential must be explored and exploited.”

Currently, a genetically-modified solution is being used in the biomass process. The downside to the current method is the cost due to needing an expensive pre-treatment so that the plant biomass can be successfully digested. This is then followed by the fermentation of released sugars by yeast to produce products such as bio-ethanol.

Researchers have previously claimed that using cow manure could provide up to 3% of America’s electricity needs, while simultaneously slashing greenhouse gas emissions. Other success stories closer to home include the case were more than 430 households in Northern Ireland were provided with heat and electricity by the poo from 600 cows.

India Plans To Rent Rooftops In A Bid To Install More Solar Panels

17 Feb

When it comes to solar power, India is in one of the most perfect locations for the technology due to its extraordinary sun coverage and the high levels of unmet demand for electricity. There are very few countries in the world where solar power has a greater potential than India. With a huge landmass and an average of 300 sunny days a year, India theoretically provides five trillion kilowatt-hours of clean and renewable solar power available every year across its length and breadth, enough to electrify the nation dozens of times over. At times throughout the warmest months of the year major cities for example Delhi suffer from regular power outages due to the increasing demand for power.

To capitalise on the opportunity Indian electricity companies are advising potential customers to rent out their rooftops in a bid to host solar panels. Such a push could see a huge expansion for the country’s solar power capabilities.

The main targets are large industrial and commercial energy consumers. Not only do these companies that host the panels end up with a significant discount on their power bill, but the developers also save money on the most expensive aspect of solar development, which is the cost of purchasing large amounts of land to host their renewable energy projects.

Government buildings such as hospitals, schools and office buildings are potential targets for hosting the technology. Other potential landmarks include industrial complexes, commercial buildings and malls are the target for these operators who would set up solar rooftops for free and sell you power at rates that are cheaper than the local utilities.

“Around 240 sq mt of rooftop space is good enough for setting up a rooftop solar power plant that can viably sell power to the building and earn some decent profits,” said Sunil Jain, chief executive of Hero Future Energies. “In fact, some five-six companies including Hero Future Energy have already entered the fray and are on the lookout for large rooftop space in industrial complexes, commercial buildings, malls and gated communities,” he said.

Although a positive plan, a major disadvantage of the idea is that the cost of generating power differs in different places due to difference of the sunlight’s intensity. For example, the sun is the strongest in Rajasthan and the intensity reduces as it moves towards east. Another issue is with the rental model itself as there is no set of standard model agreements, and therefore the power companies don’t yet have a way to make the contracts legally binding. It means that while customers may rent out their roofs for lengthy periods of time, up to 25 years, they might be able to unexpectedly back out of an agreement questioning its reliability.




The UK Is To House The Largest Wind Farm The World Has Ever Seen

8 Feb

Danish firm Dong Energy have just announced plans to build the largest wind farm known to man, and it will be located off the north-east coast of the UK in the North Sea. The project is called ‘The Hornsea Project’ and will generate an estimated 1.2GW of power once switched online. In recent years, wind power has taken second position to solar technology in its contribution to the world’s energy supply, but the industry is to be given a huge and exciting boost.

The turbines will be taller than the iconic Gherkin building in London at 190 metres (623 feet) tall. This is arguably the highest on the market and will potentially provide enough power for a million homes. It will be the first offshore wind farm to exceed 1 gigawatts in capacity and will be capable of producing 1.2 GW of power at its upper limit. The development will consist of 7MW wind turbines.

This is not the first time Dong Energy have invested into wind power in the UK, around £6 billion so far, and this new project will be their biggest investment to date. The project is anticipated to make some ripples in the UK economy, with an estimated 2,000 jobs needed for the construction of the facility, and another 300 positions that will be needed to actually operate it when complete. It should even help the UK meet its new climate commitments under the recent Paris accords. It will cover 160 square miles, and be home to 174 wind turbines spanning an area five times the size of Hull.

“It is ground-breaking and innovative, powering more homes than any offshore wind farm currently in operation,” said Dong Energy UK country chairman, Brent Cheshire. “To have the world’s biggest ever offshore wind farm located off the Yorkshire coast is hugely significant, and highlights the vital role offshore wind will play in the UK’s need for new low-carbon energy.”

The wind farm is to be built 75 miles off the coast of Grimsby, at an estimated cost to energy bill-payers of at least £4.2 billion.

The UK secretary of state for energy and climate change praised the plan, saying, “The UK is the world leader in offshore wind energy and this success story is going from strength to strength. The investment shows that we are open for business and is a vote of confidence in the UK and our plan to tackle the legacy of under investment and build an energy infrastructure fit for the twenty first century.”

First electricity from the project is expected to be generated in 2019 and the wind farm should be fully operational by 2020.

The Benefits of Solar Panels

29 Jan

It has been argued that solar power will help in reducing the effects of global warming. Many theorists argue that global warming will prove a huge threat to the earth’s ecological system in years to come. Global warming threatens the survival of human society and countless species. Luckily, decades (or even centuries) of research have led to efficient solar panel systems that create electricity without producing global warming pollution. Solar power is now very clearly one of the most important solutions to the global warming crisis.

Solar power is a form of renewable energy, so its use reduces the strain on exhaustible materials like coal and oil – materials which are fast running out. More significantly, solar power doesn’t pollute the earth’s atmosphere with harmful emissions in the same way that coal and oil do. Once fitted, solar panels emit no pollution whatsoever, and only the construction and installation process contribute to the Earth’s carbon footprint. Solar panels are, in fact, the most environmentally friendly of all available renewable technologies.

The Benefits

Solar power provides energy security. First and foremost no one can go and buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly. Combined with the simplicity of solar panels, this also provides the notable solar power advantage of energy security.

Carbon footprint advantages. Research shows over the life of a solar installation it produces on average of 20x less CO2 than coal power – at least! Solar panels are carbon negative after three years. As during this time they produce as much energy as was consumed during their manufacturing and installation.

Solar power creates jobs. As a source of energy, solar power is a job-creating powerhouse. Money invested in solar power creates two to three times more jobs than money invested in coal or natural gas. (see table below for example from 2014).

Earn money for the electricity you generate. The Feed-in tariffs in the United Kingdom were announced in October 2008 and took effect from April 2010. It applies to small-scale generation of electricity, paying a fixed sum for eligible technologies. Feed-in tariffs normally cover all of the energy generated, not just what is fed into the grid. You can also sell the electricity you generate but do not use back to the grid.

Solar power is reliable. The rising and setting of the sun is extremely consistent. All across the world, we know exactly when it will rise and set every day of the year. While clouds may be a bit less predictable, we do also have fairly good seasonal and daily projections for the amount of sunlight that will be received in different locations. All in all, this makes solar power an extremely reliable source of energy.

And finally, one of the biggest advantages to the homeowner…
Cut your electricity bills. Sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation your electricity costs will be reduced.


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