Renewable Energy Inventions – Driving Us Forward

There are various renewable energy types. Whether that is solar, wind, hydro or tidal, all come from innovation and invention7A Realizable Renewable Energy Future. BY John A. Turner. Science30 Jul 1999 : 687-689 . As we accelerate our move away from the use of fossil fuels, we rely on renewable energy inventions and innovations to make the switch possible. Each of these renewable energy inventions provides us with some of the means to realise the many advantages of renewable energy.

As it currently stands, we have around 50 years worth of oil and gas left in the world8BP Statistical Review of World Energy. June 2018. British Petroleum. . Therefore, the importance of using renewable energy is ever increasing. If we can generate power from renewable sources, we can make renewable energy accessible for all. 

We have used renewable energy for centuries. In fact, we used it before we started using coal. However, the industrial revolution brought with it change and from this moment, we have damaged our planet with polluting fossil fuels. Therefore, we are now trying to go full circle and begin relying on renewable alternative energy sources again4Ibrahim Dincer, Renewable energy and sustainable development: a crucial review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2000, Pages 157-175, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-0321(99)00011-8. .

So, let’s take a look at some of the top renewable energy inventions that have helped us on our way. And stand to benefit us further are we switch to cleaner, greener renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Inventions:

Battery Storage

One of the problems we face when it comes to using renewable energy is the way we store it. Up until recently, we could only use it as it was generated. This meant that we were not making full use of the likes of solar energy. However, our quest to use more renewable energy has been met with progress in storage2Piergiorgio Alotto, Massimo Guarnieri, Federico Moro, Redox flow batteries for the storage of renewable energy: A review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 29, 2014, Pages 325-335,

The likes of Tesla are now offering energy storage solutions. Their Powerwall storage solution has the ability to power a home for up to 7 days using stored energy from solar. If we can store surplus energy at times of peak generation then we can use it later. In particular when the sun or the wind prevent renewable energy meeting demand. Of course, we need more renewable energy battery storage too as solar farms are now becoming mainstream across the globe. Therefore, we need a way to store all of this energy so we can use it when we need it. 

As it stands, battery storage is improving which means future generations of batteries are sure to provide a solution to one of our problems.

Wind Turbines

We have used wind for centuries so it is not a new technology or concept. For example, think back to pictures of large wooden windmills grinding flour. However, we can now use wind turbines as a renewable energy source. In the history of wind energy, the first turbine that could generate electricity was invented in 1988 by Charles F. Brush. 

With every decade since came an improvement in the technology. Today, wind turbines are bigger than ever before and they have the ability to generate large amounts of electricity. We can now power thousands of homes from one wind power plant. The average onshore wind turbine can produce 6 million kWh annually

Human invention has allowed us to position wind turbines offshore. Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil CCO Public Domain

Meanwhile, offshore wind is also growing at a pace. We have a vast amount of ocean that we can make use of. What is also vital is that there is a lot of wind that blows across the ocean that we can harness. It also makes it possible to create large offshore windfarms without using up valuable land.

Therefore, when it comes to renewable energy inventions, wind turbines are up there as one of the most significant.

Solar Panels

Just like the wind will always blow, the sun will always shine. In 1839, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. From this moment in the history of solar energy, it became possible for us to benefit from generating electricity from the sun.

Solar panels use the energy from the sun and so, the potential of this invention as a source of energy is huge. So much so, that whole countries now have targets to become solar energy reliant. 

Solar panels use solar cells to turn the sunlight into energy and we can use this to power towns and cities. Solar farms and solar power plants are now more and more common. This proves that solar energy is an invention that is going to power us into the future. 

Tidal Turbines

In the same way as wind turbines, tidal turbines turn through wave movement. The ocean covers around 70% of the world. If we can harness the power of the ocean1Nishino, T., & Willden, R. (2012). The efficiency of an array of tidal turbines partially blocking a wide channel. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 708, 596-606. doi:10.1017/jfm.2012.349 , then we really can solve our need for green energy

However, this is still a relatively new idea when it comes to renewable energy. We did not utilise the power of tidal energy until the 1960s. The first tidal power plant was built in St. Malo, France and has been generating energy ever since.

Despite its potential, this form of renewable energy has had small-scale success. The science that drives this source of energy forward is progressing. In Scotland, a low-cost turbine can generate two megawatts. As it can be moved, it means that it won’t disrupt the fishing industry. 

sr2000 Tidal Turbine A Renewable Energy Invention
The SR2000 is truly innovative. This floating tidal turbine can generate up to 18 MWH in 24 hours. That matches the generation capacity of many fixed offshore wind turbines. Photo Credit: Orbital Marine Power.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

For centuries we have known about the power geothermal energy. The first ground source heat pump generator was developed by Robert C. Webber. So, this source of energy can make use of the heat from the earth but also the heat from the sun as it heats the ground. 

The idea is one that countries such as Iceland and Japan use. They are known as geothermally active countries. They utilise this technology for district heating schemes and use it to generate steam that drives turbines to generate electricity. This is a renewable energy power supply that is not widely used. However, it is one that can certainly help our transition to renewables.

Biomass Fuel

Biomass is a form of fuel that comes from plant materials. This can include wood and crops that are specially grown. Our ability to use biomass as a form of fuel is a clear indication of how far we have come. 

To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the wood we burn comes from sustainable sources9Matti Parikka, Global biomass fuel resources, Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 27, Issue 6, 2004, Pages 613-620, ISSN 0961-9534, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2003.07.005. . Therefore, the trees that we use we replace with new trees. As a result, the carbon that we release when we burn the material is absorbed by the new trees. As a material, we can use it heat up space and water while we can also use it to generate electricity. We can now even create biodiesel that can power vehicles in place of traditional fuels. 

Solar Powered Vehicles

While we are not going to see these on the roads for some time, the technology exists. For too long, our reliance on fuel to run vehicles has caused problems for the environment. 

However, the technology is evolving and we will soon be able to run vehicles on solar power5Price H, Lüpfert E, Kearney D, et al. Advances in Parabolic Trough Solar Power Technology. ASME. J. Sol. Energy Eng. 2002;124(2):109-125. doi:10.1115/1.1467922. . Nasa uses solar power to power its Mars Exploration Rovers. Solar power technology is evolving and the fact that we can power vehicles using it is a remarkable feat. 

The idea is one that we can build on in our quest for cost-effective, energy-efficient alternatives to traditional fuel-driven vehicles3Dunbar P. Birnie, Solar-to-vehicle (S2V) systems for powering commuters of the future, Journal of Power Sources, Volume 186, Issue 2, 2009, Pages 539-542, ISSN 0378-7753, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpowsour.2008.09.118. .

Renewable Energy Inventions Solar Car
A number of solar car competitions across the world provide a place for new ideas and innovations to be tested. The most popular is the World Solar Challenge in Australia. Pictured is a solar-powered car developed by the University of Minnesota. Whereas not yet particularly practical solar innovation continues at a pace. The latest renewable energy invention in solar cars come from a Dutch Startup. The Lightyear one is said to have a range of 450 miles on a single charge and will be available from 2021. It charges from the sun via solar panels on the roof and the bonnet. Picture Credit: U.S. Department of Energy, Public Domain via Flickr.

Using Alcohol Waste

On a global scale, we produce a lot of alcohol. By 2022, we estimate that the alcoholic beverage market will reach $1,594 billion. However, when it comes to making alcohol, there is also a lot of waste. So, instead of creating waste, some breweries are now using waste to create renewable energy. 

In Scotland, there are whiskey distilleries that are using waste grain to power around 9,000 homes. Energy companies can now convert the grain from around 100 distilleries to create electricity. This reduces waste and helps to contribute to the energy goals of Scotland, which is to use 100% renewable energy by 2020.

Solar Powered Water Pumps

When we consider renewable energy inventions, this is one that can make a difference. In Africa, droughts and water shortages are a common thing. The problems are becoming worse as a result of climate change and global warming. In fact, the IPCC is predicting that half a billion people will suffer from climate change.

However, in Africa, even the driest areas have the largest underground supplies of freshwater. Getting to that water has been a problem. However, today things are changing. 

Solar-powered water pumps can reach water 100m underground. The pumps can then draw up as much as 30,000 litres per day. This helps to deliver fresh water to those who need it most.

Renewable Energy Inventions Are Our Future

We have come a long way in such a short space of time when it comes to renewable energy6David Popp, Ivan Hascic, Neelakshi Medhi, Technology and the diffusion of renewable energy, Energy Economics, Volume 33, Issue 4, 2011, Pages 648-662, ISSN 0140-9883, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2010.08.007. . The problem of climate change is real. We are now seeing the impact it has through increased heatwaves, floods and extreme weather. Therefore the benefits renewable energy inventions provide will help to shape our future energy landscape.

These inventions form part of a larger picture. Innovation and renewable energy inventions are helping us to push boundaries. These solutions make it possible for us to transform parts of our lives and help to reduce carbon emissions at the same time.

Renewable Energy Solar Panels and Wind Turbine
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Kenueone on Pixabay

Further Reading:

Sources & References:

#Description
1Nishino, T., & Willden, R. (2012). The efficiency of an array of tidal turbines partially blocking a wide channel. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 708, 596-606. doi:10.1017/jfm.2012.349
2Piergiorgio Alotto, Massimo Guarnieri, Federico Moro, Redox flow batteries for the storage of renewable energy: A review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 29, 2014, Pages 325-335, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2013.08.001.
3Dunbar P. Birnie, Solar-to-vehicle (S2V) systems for powering commuters of the future, Journal of Power Sources, Volume 186, Issue 2, 2009, Pages 539-542, ISSN 0378-7753, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpowsour.2008.09.118.
4Ibrahim Dincer, Renewable energy and sustainable development: a crucial review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 4, Issue 2, 2000, Pages 157-175, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-0321(99)00011-8.
5Price H, Lüpfert E, Kearney D, et al. Advances in Parabolic Trough Solar Power Technology. ASME. J. Sol. Energy Eng. 2002;124(2):109-125. doi:10.1115/1.1467922.
6David Popp, Ivan Hascic, Neelakshi Medhi, Technology and the diffusion of renewable energy, Energy Economics, Volume 33, Issue 4, 2011, Pages 648-662, ISSN 0140-9883, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2010.08.007.
7A Realizable Renewable Energy Future. BY John A. Turner. Science30 Jul 1999 : 687-689
8BP Statistical Review of World Energy. June 2018. British Petroleum.
9Matti Parikka, Global biomass fuel resources, Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 27, Issue 6, 2004, Pages 613-620, ISSN 0961-9534, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2003.07.005.

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