Wind farms have been controversial due to their size and visibility, but micro windmills are so tiny they can fit on a grain of rice. The aim is to charge mobile phone batteries using minimal wind, even waving your arm should be enough. They also anticipate that flat panels with thousands of micro windmills could be mounted onto buildings to harvest energy for lighting, security or wireless communication – definitely one way for businesses to cut their carbon footprint.
The rumour mill has been buzzing that Apple would bring out solar-cell iPhones after a $578 million deal with GT Advanced Technologies to provide sapphire glass. The idea is that Apple will embed the cell in the iPhone’s glass screen. Apple has filed relevant patents and advertised for solar engineers, but experts believe solar-cell technology isn’t yet advanced enough. If and when it is introduced, we can expect other devices and appliances to start becoming “solar independent” and including their own power-generation sources. We may one day get that wireless office.
Solar energy is great, except it doesn’t work in the dark. However, scientists are now working on a way to harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions to outer space. Thanks to the sun’s heat, the planet is warm compared to the freezing vacuum beyond, and this heat imbalance could be transformed into thermoelectric power. This would help resolve the issue of storing solar energy harvested during the day to use power at night.
Pterofin uses an oscillating wing to generate energy using natural air or water currents. The wind-turbine technology is based on biomimicry – copying what birds and fishes do naturally. Its founder essentially reverse engineered the movement of a fish’s dorsal fin. Researchers estimate that one six foot Pterofin placed on a roof could fulfil a quarter of household energy needs.
The Holy Grail of energy sources, cold fusion is gradually inching towards commercialisation. It’s claimed that a desktop-sized reactor could generate unlimited energy, but it may be a while before people are comfortable having nuclear reactors around the place, albeit “LENRs” – low-energy nuclear reactors. Whatever happens, commercially available cold fusion could transform the entire world economy as we know it, breaking our reliance on fossil fuels once and for all.
While we await these wonders, there’s still a lot to be done to improve current energy technology. Better efficiency, better battery life and better storage are all in the pipeline.
We can also do better with what we’ve got. A study suggests Europe could cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent by using only low-cost, existing technology.