The Future Is Bright . . . And Clean

How the world will be positively disrupted by batteries

The world is rushing towards sustainable energy generation. We have the ever more efficient conventional generators of wind and solar farms, but we’re now starting to see even further innovation that, even three years ago, would have been considered fantastical.

A number of key developments are proving that sustainability is an attainable reality. For instance, Japanese inventor Atsushi Shimizu has invented a “typhoon turbine” that actually generates energy from typhoons. Calculations indicate a “typhoon turbine farm” could power Japanese energy consumption needs for an entire 50 years. Similarly, Swedish company CorPower Ocean has developed a working wave power buoy that can withstand sea storms. Trials will take place over the next year. Global governments have been extolling consumers for years to save electricity, but U.S. energy startups will pay you to save energy through a unique app and relationship with the energy providers. The Internet of Things will bring scale to this new model.

With any sustainable energy resource, the perennial issue is this – what happens when the sun doesn’t shine, the wind doesn’t blow and the seas are calm? Equally, what happens when we generate energy we don’t need? The key to solving this problem, of course, is batteries.

The pace of innovation here is similar to that of generating technology, but not as well covered in the press. Even so, there have been some startling innovations. Norway, for example, is the world’s largest battery. Feel free to read that again. In 2014, the U.K. and Norwegian governments signed a deal to install the longest sub-sea electricity interconnector in the world to import green energy from Norway to the United Kingdom. There’s a bigger plan behind that, though – to export unused green electricity from the U.K. back to Norway in order to power the turbines that pump water up to mountain reservoirs. When the U.K. hits peak energy requirements, the turbines are reversed, causing the reservoir water to drop down and drive the turbines to generate energy.

The Americans are also experimenting with using excess energy to drive old railroad cars loaded with stone up long, slight inclines. When the cars need power, the breaks are simply released and the downhill momentum creates energy from generators. It’s not just the technology on it’s own that is positively disrupting – it’s the addition of new business models that is accelerating change. Consider virtual power stations. In a new experiment by Consolidated Edison, the New York utility is launching a pilot program which will link a number of small solar arrays into one singular plant to improve flexibility and reliability. This ‘virtual power plant’ has been developed in partnership with solar power innovator SunPower and energy storage firm Sunverge. The venture will create a total of 1.8 megawatts of solar capacity, as well as batteries that can store up to four megawatt-hours of electricity. With this, Consolidated Edison will be able to power 300 average U.S. households for a whole 10 hours.

Then, of course, there are the startups that are building the technology and business models which will enable homeowners to sell energy produced in the house back into the grid – providing energy generation with the potential to be economically neutral. The combination of increasingly efficient carbon free energy tech, falling technology prices and the rapidly evolving innovation in battery technology and business models means that the future is increasingly looking clean and bright.