As we strive to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, human ingenuity is rising to the challenge. Consequently, renewable energy right now is one of the fastest-growing and most innovative business sectors in the world, attracting entrepreneurs and investors alike. In this article, we'll take a look at some of the most exciting renewable energy projects from around the world.
The world's first floating wind farm
Hywind is the world's first floating wind farm which has the capacity to power around 20,000 homes(1) and is now delivering energy direct to the Scottish grid.
The brand new floating wind farm is situated in North East Scotland, on the coast of Aberdeenshire and consists of five giant turbines, each tethered to the seabed.
The Norwegian energy firm Statoil took 15 years to develop, install and commission Hywind, using a number of Scottish suppliers throughout. From the sea's surface to the tip of its rotor blade, each turbine measures 175m and extends a further 78m below the surface where it is held fast to the sea floor by chains.
Floating turbines can be sited in much deeper water than conventional offshore wind farms. While conventional offshore wind farms are restricted to waters up to a depth of 50m, farms like Hywind can operate in water up to 129m deep. This offers great potential for energy producers.
Statoil estimates that up to 80% of potential sites for offshore wind energy are in waters over 60m deep but is also confident that floating turbines can be developed that will work in depths of up to 800m.
Experience the scale of the Hywind project in this YouTube video from BBC News Scotland.
Using sunlight to water crops
From its base in Nairobi Kenya, SunCulture is dedicated to helping African smallholders improve their profits with its affordable solar-powered plant watering systems.
In many parts of Africa, soils are highly fertile but the lack of rainfall can be a problem. SunCulture technology is producing life-changing results, increasing crops by up to 300% while decreasing water consumption by up to 80%.
"Most smallholder farmers in Africa are only one bad harvesting season away from financial ruin" said SunCulture CEO and founder Samir Ibrahim on their company blog. "Solar-powered irrigation offers farmers an affordable alternative to the high cost of diesel and electric irrigation technology, enabling farmers to substantially reduce energy costs and boost agricultural output."
SunCulture's 'RainMaker' solar water pump system does exactly that. Using energy from its portable 120W solar panel, RainMaker can pump enough water to irrigate a one acre farm, support livestock and fulfil household water needs too. RainMaker can lift 7,000 litres of per day water from wells up to 100m deep, which compared to some higher-priced systems that can only lift water from wells 10m deep offers significant savings.
To learn more about SunCulture watch their video interview with founders Samir Ibrahim and Charlie Nichols.
A smarter approach to street lighting
Sunna Design is a company dedicated to providing reliable, sustainable and affordable public lighting systems that work not just in modern 'smart' cities but also in remote, rural areas and where extremes of climate present the toughest challenges.
Founder and CEO Thomas Samuel decided he wanted to help provide street lighting to places without it while he was in India in 2009. After that, he created a venture that's well on its way to leading the world in public lighting systems with 10,000 products installed in 40 countries.
Sunna provides affordable public lighting, not just for sophisticated urban environments but also for areas where people are in crisis. 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity. Reliable street lighting can create a positive impact on economic and everyday social life for those who need it most. In refugee camps where electricity supplies are either intermittent or non-existent, crime and gender-based violence can flourish easily. Sunna's heat resistant, vandal proof iSSL+ lighting units can be deployed quickly, simply and at a containable cost, helping to improve the quality of life in these volatile environments.
At the other end of the scale, Sunna creates products for 21st century urban environments like the Totem lighting unit which reduces energy costs while integrating with smart city technologies.
Find out about Nanogrid, Sunna's latest, most innovative solution to the challenge of bringing electricity to rural Africa in this video on the Sunna website.
The battery that's also a transformer
Fluidic energy is an Arizona-based company with a mission to transform lives by bringing clean, reliable electricity to 100,000,000 people whose energy needs are currently underserved.
Widely accepted by the scientific community as the most cost-effective way to store energy, Zinc-Air technology had limited commercial viability until Fluidic found a way to produce rechargeable Zinc-Air batteries. As a result, Fluidic Energy became the first company to globally commercialise Zinc-Air battery technology, bringing sustainable energy solutions to over 4,000,000 people and saving over 4919 metric tonnes of CO2 to date.
Compared to the production of Lithium-ion batteries, Zinc-Air batteries can be produced at a much lower-cost. Fluidic has proven that Zinc-Air battery products can be manufactured using only 1/20th of the capital and 1/8th of the fully-loaded capacity of lithium-ion production facilities. This means the company can locate production centres nearer to its markets in Central America, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. As a result, the outlay on transportation and import tariffs for the company is reduced but perhaps more significantly, the job creation this brings and the rise in demand for local content has a dramatic benefit to local economies.
Fluidic is helping to diversify the energy economy on a global scale, bringing clean, reliable power to challenging, energy-poor environments and helping to eliminate the use of harmful diesel generators and lead-acid batteries. Find out more about how Fluidic products are electrifying the developing world in their website newsroom.
Saving lives with a solar suitcase
Founded as a non-profit venture in 2009, We Care Solar 'promotes safe motherhood and mortality in developing regions by providing health workers with reliable lighting, mobile communication and medical devices using solar electricity.'
On learning that 300,000 women a year die in childbirth from preventable causes, Dr Laura Stachel a US obstetrician decided to do something about it. Working in West Africa, she soon realised that energy poverty had a major impact on rates of maternal mortality. Working with her husband, a solar educator and innovator, she developed the Solar Suitcase, a fully portable, rugged and reliable solar electric system for use in health centres. The Solar Suitcase gives healthcare workers surgical LED lighting plus the ability to power surgical devices, it also includes rechargeable headlamps and a monitor to measure the baby's heartbeat during childbirth as well as the ability to charge cellphones.
To date, 2808 health centres have been equipped with Solar Suitcases in locations across Central America, Africa and Asia. 1,572,999 mothers have given birth safely in these health facilities and 11,232 health workers have been trained. We Care Solar continues to seek partners to help it to scale its operations because as Dr Stachel says, " No woman should die giving life."
If you're interested in renewable energy, find out more about the different types with our article Types and alternative sources of renewable energy.
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