Archive for September, 2011

September 25, 2011

Self-Storage = Avoiding or Piling up Waste?

According to the UK Self Storage Association 800, self-storage facilities exist now all over the UK, and this figure is steadily growing.  This is estimated to be equal to about 29.5 million square feet of precious space.

But does it mean that we save landfills from overflowing or rather that we just have an alternative place for waste, which people will even pay for?

Self-storage has been part of every day life in the US since the 1960’s but these large warehouses are now becoming more and more popular in the UK, as well. Main reasons for this could be the ever smaller homes and the increasing divorce rate, when people need some space to store their ‘stuff’ instead of disposing of them.  Other ‘customers’ of these warehouses include youngsters who move back to their parents’ home.

Self-storage trends

Self-storage seems to be a very good business, as the top two market players (Safestore and Big Yellow) are already listed on the Stock Exchange, and have 96 and 74 UK-based facilities, respectively. They have reported revenue growth on a year-on-year basis, as well as expanding business. For example, Big Yellow’s annual store revenue was over GBP 60 million in 2010.

According to the latest study, also the time people store their things for has been increasing, from an average of 22 weeks in 2007 to 38 weeks, which may also mean that they spend much more on a monthly basis.

Businesses have also discovered this solution for keeping their stock and using these facilities as warehouses, while Big Yellow even offers wine storage in Fulham if customers don’t have enough space.

Eco-solution or a pile of waste? The pros and cons

From one side, self-storage could mean that more waste is saved from landfills, which thus won’t overflow, and people even pay for it. At least more than council tax for waste collection. Also, the items in the rooms and boxes may be eventually re-used by the owners or given away to others.

On the other hand, these may end up on the landfill anyway – just a bit later, while even then they may not be suitable for recycling. Furthermore, more and more self-storage facilities due to the ever increasing demand could take up precious space, which may be put for a better use, in an already rather crowded country.

Overall, self-storage may seem to be a good solution if people use it temporarily but we may rather want to seriously consider whether to dispose of ‘stuff’ in an environmentally friendly way (recycling or re-using) or to pile them up in a locked room. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

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September 16, 2011

The Latest Fashion Accessory: Solar Cells

Have you ever wondered how you could easily charge your phone or notebook on the move? You can now do it in a trendy way with dozens of fashion items featuring solar cells.  And a new technology can even allow you to just spray them on.

Let’s take the basic accessory of a woman, the handbag. ELLE magazine asked several fashion designers – including Tommy Hilfiger and Diane von Furstenberg -, to create stylish handbags with solar cells, for stylish girls, which were then later available at an auction.

from: elle.com

And of course, manbags are also available for eco-conscious men, for example from Neuber Energy.

What’s more, plenty of jewellery, including necklaces, watches, as well as ties, and trendy sunglasses – all have their own versions with integrated solar cells. Indeed, the latter one even features a power jack for universal connection.

from: trendhunter.com

Solar cells can come with us to the beach, as well. Besides solar-powered bikinis, there are now beach totes and chic designer parasols, which can help in charging music players or phones on the shore, while soaking up the sun.

Outdoor-lovers can now put up tents with solar panels , and wear a solar backpack, hats and caps or even jackets while climbing the hills and walking in the forests.

from: treehugger.com

A look into the future

Currently solar cells are made of various materials with many technologies, but one of the major challenges to overcome is flexibility. While these clothes and accessories already feature such solutions, there is further ongoing research by companies, all over the world.

Mitsubishi Chemical Corp has just announced the development of a new spray-on solar power technology, which should allow solar cells of less than one millimeter thick to be added to basically any surfaces, including cars, walls or even clothes. Such solar cells would not need glass layering, as it is usual with current solutions.

Similarly, the US-based company, Konarka [17] already manufactures semi-transparent solar panels in red or green, which can be printed on a number of materials, including glass. This means high flexibility, amongst others used on windows, large parasols or even roofs of bus stops, enabling them to collect the power of the sunshine.

These special solar cell technologies are aimed at increasing the flexibility and eventually efficiency of solar power usage, which could lead to the widespread use of solar energy.

Thus in the near future we may only have to get dressed to have all the power our devices need in a day.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

 

September 5, 2011

Electricity Without Walls

Have you dreamt about a world where you don’t need to carry dozens of chargers for different gadgets or where your electric car may just be charged wirelessly while parked.

Ever since Nicolas Tesla tried to prove the possibility of wireless power transmission between continents with his Wardenclyffe Tower in 1901 [1], it has been the subject of much research.

Wireless electricity transfer already exists in our every day life, for example in electric toothbrushes and universal mobile phone charging mats. These use magnetic induction but it’s highly inefficient and it only acts on a very short distance.

Technologies for longer distance wireless electricity transfer include lasers or microwaves, which have been also reviewed for solar power satellites to send energy by beaming it to the Earth.

There are already products with this technology available, mainly in the consumer electronics section. Some examples are Haier’s wireless HDTV or Sony’s Bravia LCD TV, that allow people to place the TVs anywhere they want inside the house, without worrying where the closest socket is.

Research

Many companies as well as universities have been working on the improvement of wireless energy transmission.

In 2008 Intel showcased its Wireless Resonant Energy Link (WREL) technology, using magnetic resonance for transferring power and lighting a 60W light bulb with the power from the source that was three feet away. The advantage of this solution shall be mobility, as it works on greater distances than currently used methods. In the future these coils could be embedded anywhere (for instance gadgets and devices in the homes), while providing increased efficiency.

Also, in 2007 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) a project called WiTricity was conducted on wireless energy transfer. Later a spin-off company was founded based on the research, and today it operates with several commercial partners – amongst others with an investment from Toyota. Their technology is ideal for medium-range power transfer, and already offers a very high 95 per cent efficiency.

The Business Segment

Besides WiTricity there are several companies interested in wireless energy transmission. An industry organisation, the Wireless Power Consortium [11] already has more than 90 members, including France Telecom, Haier, HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, Panasonic, Samsung, or Sony-Ericsson. It focuses on introducing an international standard for compatible wireless charging stations.

The Future

For more than a hundred years researchers were trying to develop the feasible solution for transferring energy wirelessly. Nowadays the majority of households have wireless Internet connection, so wireless power may only be one step forward. And with so many companies working on it, it may be closer than one would think.

[1] BBC Focus Magazine, Issue 233, September 2011, “Electric Dreams”, Paul Parsons, page 64-67

 

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

 

 

 

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