Archive for January, 2013

January 22, 2013

Energy co-operatives

Co-operatives are traditionally an efficient and successful way for communities that aim to live or work with certain benefits through co-operation. Co-operatives are usually created by people working, living together or by those consuming products or services as a group.

Utility co-operatives have been around in the US since the New Deal but recently there are more and more such co-operatives set up all around the world, which focus on green and alternative energy usage.

These co-ops provide an opportunity for local people to invest into various projects, for example setting up new solar panels or a wind turbine. Then, the co-operative provides interest for these investors from feed-in-tariffs or by selling electricity.

In Germany, the number of energy co-operatives has tripled to more than 600 in two years, with over 80,000 active members. The largest of these is EWS, where 99.2 per cent of the electricity comes from renewable sources and 0.8 per cent is from the co-generation of heat and power (CHP).

But Germany is not alone. In the UK, there are also an increasing number of such community initiatives.

Brixton Energy already has two existing solar projects in the Loughborough Estate with hundreds of square metres of solar panels, while Community Energy Warwick raised enough money for solar panels to be placed on the roofs of the Stratford upon Avon and Warwick hospitals. Meanwhile, the Brighton Energy Co-op recently set up “the largest solar system in Sussex”, with installations in Shoreham-by-sea, Portslade and Brighton.

But the list goes on: Leominster Community Solar, Ovesco, Bath & West Community Energy, Westmill Wind Farm, Baywind Energy, Hockerton Housing Project, Boyndie Wind Farm, and many others – with a total of 75 utility co-ops listed with Co-operatives UK.

Renewable energy co-operatives thus could mean the future for renewables with local communities joining forces to gain access to cheap (or free) energy sources by working together.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

January 15, 2013

Heated pavements – wasted heat or saving resources?

When talking about heated pavements, the first thought that would come to one’s mind would be – what a waste of energy and heat! However many existing schemes in Northern cities could show that these heated ‘roads’ could be beneficial and may even save resources.

A recent pilot project in the Netherlands for example is investigating the possibility to collect and store summer heat underground and release it in the winter months to keep the bicycle lanes ice-free. The benefits could mean less salt used and probably more cyclists on the roads.

In Northern countries, like Norway or Iceland, heated pavements are already well-established – in the latter one mainly fuelled by geothermal energy.

The company ICAX has developed its unique  ‘Solar Road Systems’, which collect the heat in the summer for road heating and de-icing in the winter. Their technology utilises the fact that black tarmac used on the road surfaces can heat up significantly in the sunshine, and by storing this heat – it can be used in colder months – for free. Their first successful trial in the UK took place under an access road to the M1 motorway at Toddington, Bedfordshire. Furthermore, the firm also claims to provide a solution for de-icing runways and parking stands at airports, potentially lowering disruption at busy terminals in snowy conditions.

Another company, Solar Roadways from Idaho, USA [4] has tested specially designed glass panels, with multiple features. These contain LED lights – which could display for instance road signs – , while the heating elements can help melt snow and ice, improving winter driving conditions.
This system is currently quite expensive due to the materials used, but there are also some cheaper alternative methods being investigated. One of these is using photovoltaic panels and cells on the roads, with embedded pipes for storing energy until colder times.

For a small town in Michigan, USA, this idea is nothing new. Here, waste heat from the local power station has been used in the underground pipes to melt the ice on the pavements since the installation of this system in 1988.

Also, there are already many commercially available personal under-driveway and under-pavement melting systems and mats, but these are costly and may not be very environmentally-friendly.

Hence, if cold winters continue to be harsh, heated pavements could be seriously considered as one of the long-term solutions for easing winter problems.
Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

 

January 8, 2013

Oil for computers?

We all know that you should keep your computer away from any kind of liquid. However Intel has just recently conducted a trial by dipping their servers into mineral oil for a year, ultimately with great success.

The aim of this research project was to investigate how to make data centre cooling more efficient, perhaps even moving away from traditional air cooling. While some companies, like Google or Facebook are re-locating their whole data centres to Northern countries, the mineral oil bath could be an easier solution.

Intel conducted the experiment in New Mexico together with Green Revolution Cooling, and during the course of one year it turned out to be more efficient than fan-based air cooling. What’s more, none of the computer components were damaged while submerged, either.

Data centres consume enormous amounts of energy. According to some recent data, server management, power and cooling on unused systems inside data centres amount to USD 24.7 billion per year. These unused machines may even make up 15 per cent of all data centre servers, increasing the level of inefficiency and costs even more.

Intel is not the first company to investigate liquid cooling methods. A start-up called Iceotope has also achieved impressive results by using their own cooling liquid, called Novec.

Hence, with more and more research in this area, hopefully data centres could become more efficient, which is crucial in the ever-connected online world of today.

January 3, 2013

Biophotovoltaics

Have you ever thought about using photosynthesis to power your desktop lamp or your laptop? Biophotovoltaics researchers are just working on that now.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge  have created the so-called ‘Moss Table’, Moss Tablea table with an array of pots of moss, which can already generate enough electricity to power a digital clock. For the operation, the moss only needs access to light and water in order to perform photosynthesis, which can then lead to power generation. Although current power output is rather low, it has the potential to be much more significant in the future.

The operation is rather simple. The moss (or other plants, algae) photosynthesise, which allows some organic compounds to enter the soil. When these compounds are de-composed by the bacteria in the soil, by-products are created, including electrons. These are then collected by conductive fibres integrated into the table and then used for powering devices.

According to another biophotovoltaic research, photosynthetising cells can be isolated in grass cuttings or other plant material, and these cells could then be added to various surfaces to create solar cells. The efficiency of these at the moment is also rather low but the technology is being improved day by day.

Biophotovoltaics is another promising research area, which could allow solar energy to become a direct household energy resource for anyone.

 

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