Around 10.2% of the UK's energy was generated from renewable sources in 2017. EU interim targets mean this is likely to hit the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) target of 15% by 2020 according to the government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
Solar, bio-fuel and wind technologies are all familiar sources of environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral energy. However, with ever-increasing research and demand for renewable energy, there have been some innovative advances, be it unconventional but exciting emerging concepts.
PaveGen Systems-London, based in King's Cross, is a ‘challenger’ and supplier of emerging alternative energy. It was established in 2009 as a small business start-up and has since generated cumulative revenues in excess of £2.5mn (reported in 2017). PaveGen aims to globally pioneer the conversion of wasted kinetic energy from each pedestrian's footsteps into renewable electricity. A total funding of around £5mn, according to Forbes, has meant that their proposed system of recycled polymer tiles, made from truck tires, could replace ordinary street tiles. Each tile would use electromagnetic induction to convert kinetic energy into a power source. PaveGen estimates an average of 5 watts per footstep at 12-48 volts DC. This means that 4 hours of walking on the paving would generate 0.02% of the average European's energy needs.
Other global technologies include the PowerWatch X, released in early 2018. The watch is a new generation fitness smartwatch that converts body heat into power using built-in heat sensors. Another example of energy innovation comes from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who are developing a biological fuel cell derived from the bio-luminescent protein cells of the jellyfish, Aequorea Victoria. So far, there only exists a proof-of-concept device with the technology which can power a clock. Outlandish as it may seem today, these bio cells could float in the oceans and power a small city in the future. Eurostat reports that Sweden is surpassing its RED target of 49% by 4.8% and is Europe’s leading producer of renewable energy.
With the combination of research, science and technology, we could move ever-closer to an era of smart cities generating low-cost power with minimal impact on the environment. The future depends on innovative uses of excess bioenergy, waste energy and existing natural resources.
The energy system of the future won’t look like today’s. The scale of change over the next 10 to 20 years will be considerable and, while we don’t know exactly what this change will look like, we do know some of the areas that will be important. One thing seems certain – consumers will play a key role in driving the change as their energy needs for warmth, light, power and, increasingly, mobility change. The energy businesses of the future will provide those services cleanly, cheaply and efficiently by taking advantage of new energy technologies and digital enablers. The old way of simply sending electrons and gas molecules down the wires and pipes will be replaced by a better, much more sophisticated way of meeting people’s needs.