There are various renewable energy types. Whether that is solar, wind, hydro or tidal, all come from innovation and invention8. 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 world7. 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 again4.
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.
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 storage2.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ocean1, 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.
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 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 sources9. 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.
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 power5. 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 vehicles3.
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.
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.
We have come a long way in such a short space of time when it comes to renewable energy6. 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.
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