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People Are The Future Of Clean Energy

Going sustainable is going to need some new ideas

26Jan

The search for a new clean, renewable energy source is gathering apace. Last year saw evidence of an increased acceptance of the realities of global warming among governments, and an apparent willingness to do something about it. This culminated in the Paris agreement in December of 2015, a pledge signed by representatives from 195 nations. The agreement set a new target of reaching net zero emissions by the second half of the century, and it importantly holds governments accountable for making sure these targets are hit.

Renewable energy is central to meeting these new energy demands, and while the Paris agreement has huge implications for growth in the sector, they have already grown faster than many anticipated. The IEA world energy outlook at the beginning of the millennium forecasted that the share of renewables would be just 3% by 2020, and from then only 2%. However, according to 2015 analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined, and has been doing so since 2013.

Clean and renewable energy is not simply limited to solar and wind. Companies are developing innovative ways to draw every drop of energy from every facet of the world around us. One of these is harnessing the energy which we as people create in our every day life.

Converting the energy created by people seems an obvious way to turn our tendency towards consumption into something useful - to make our daily activities in some way self sustaining. Scientists have been looking at a number of ways of doing this. At MIT, for one, researchers have announced the development of a bendy battery that uses small human motions, such as bending or walking, for power. They claim to have made a significant breakthrough by figuring out how to do it electrochemically as opposed to mechanically, and while there is already technology out there that utilizes energy from faster motion, this is one of the first to work at humans’ average speed.

Pavegen, a UK company, has also been making strides with kinetic energy. The company has created flooring that captures and recycles the kinetic energy of footsteps that walk on it. It has already proven a huge hit with investors, raising 253% of its £75,000 target on Crowdcube in July. One of its most recent projects is a football pitch in Nigeria that uses the energy to power floodlights. The pitch uses 90 different underground tiles to harvest kinetic energy produced by players during the game, and is then supplemented with solar energy from panels surrounding the pitch to operate the floodlights.

Harvesting body heat is another way that people are being used to generate energy. Several major cities have begun harvesting the heat that’s trapped in their vast underground train networks. For example, 500 homes in the London borough of Islington are already being powered by the heat produced by the millions of commuters that’s sealed in the insulated tube system. The project diverts heat from the tube using a large ventilation shaft, leading into a thermal network that connects to the hundreds of homes above. Similar schemes in Sweden and Paris have also seen success, and not only do they reduce carbon emissions significantly, they also help fund the train networks themselves.

Every day, we create millions of tons of waste, and biofuel is another way that governments can look to reach their carbon emission targets. Coffee is often seen as representative of the level of human consumption, with people paying through the nose for their morning caffeine. In 2009, University of Nevada-Reno engineering professor and coffee addict, Mano Misra, noticed the sheen of oil floating on top of a cup of brew that had cooled, and developed a way that this could be used for energy. Researchers estimate that if all the waste grounds generated by the world's coffee drinkers were gathered and reprocessed, it would amount to 2.9 million gallons of diesel fuel every year. London Mayor Boris Johnson is another one who has looked at the idea, and has invested heavily in projects which use coffee grounds to power buses. This is further evidence that investment in such projects is already occurring, but governments will have to greatly expand it if they are going to take off to the sort of levels that will be required to cut emissions to zero.  

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