Newly-Launched Inventions That Can Help Homeowners Save Energy

Domestic energy efficiency has advanced a long way over the last few decades. Despite our overall energy consumption increasing by just over a third since 1980, on average our homes consume around 10% less overall. How can this be the case when we have so many more electrical appliances? Back in 1980, not many homes had more than a single TV, and computers and mobile phones were essentially non-existent. Yet somehow they used more electricity!

The answer to this question comes down to one simple principle. Energy efficiency. Government regulations and technical advances led by the private sector have resulted in appliances that are simply more sustainable. Throw in a better public understanding of the importance of reducing carbon emissions, and also the use of money expert comparison sites to track the expense of powering a home, and it the picture becomes a little clearer.

Expect to see this trend, become ever more prevalent in the near future, as sustainability has become a huge industry sector that continues to rapidly expand.

Here’s a selection of the most recent technologies that are already helping homeowners save money that we can expect to become common place over the coming years.

1. Smart Homes

At first glance, you may wonder what the point is in buying a new domestic appliance that is advertised as ‘internet connected/ready’. After all, who is going to need a web compatible refrigerator or air conditioning unit? It is increasingly common for newly released appliances to boast this feature because in the coming years, our homes are going to be much more connected than at present. Being able to monitor and control energy expenditure remotely via smartphone is a tech that is already with us – but these are still the early days.

The next big step forward is going to be the implementation of wireless sensors throughout the home. These will connect all the appliances in the home to a centralized control panel which will automatically instruct how they interact with the energy supply.

For instance, appliances not in use, but on ‘standby’ mode will be entirely disconnected from the power supply when nobody is at home. Heating and air conditioning use will be precisely measured according to the ambient temperature. Just these two examples – and there are many more in the pipeline – are set to shave a considerable amount of household energy consumption in the very near future.

2. Next Generation Home Insulation

The US Industrial Science & Technology Network takes the approach that heating and cooling costs can best be reduced by simply developing superior insulation. While still at the development stage, these are promised to be far more efficient at preventing heat from escaping.

As may be expected, they are also going to be environmentally sound and most likely comprised of recycled foam materials. Should these be proven to work, there is a very good chance they will become the industry norm for new build and redeveloped housing in the years to come.

3. Reflective Roofing Materials

While insulation is ideal for maintaining an ambient temperature what about those who live in warmer climes? Everyone knows how expensive it is to run air conditioning 24 hours a day, but there have been considerable recent advances in reflective rooftop materials. Currently, these work by using special pigments that are coated onto the roof in order to reflect sunlight and heat.

The next generation in development will use fluorescent pigments that look likely to be up to four times more efficient. So for those who reside in areas where effective air conditioning is essential around the year, these new materials may well be an absolute godsend.

4. Magnetocaloric Refrigerators

A fridge powered by magnets? Close, but not quite. Refrigeration technology has barely changed or advanced since they were first introduced. Modern fridges still rely on vapor compression, which unfortunately requires chemical coolants that are notoriously bad for the environment.

Next generation models are going to be able to make use of water-based coolants that make use of the magnetocaloric effect. In layperson’s terms, this is the use of magnets to alter the magnetic field which can provide an extremely energy efficient cooling effect. Expect this to become commonplace in the coming years, thanks to their potential in enormously reducing energy expenditure and carbon emissions.

5. Much More Efficient Heat Pumps

Considerable progress has been made by the US Building Technologies Office in developing heat pumps that essentially move heat throughout the home. There are three models in design that promise to considerably reduce expenditure on heating while also significantly reduce carbon emissions. Standard gas boilers/furnaces are notoriously expensive and inefficient.

  • A low-cost gas-based heating pump could massively increase efficiency and result in lowering heating costs by a staggering 45%.
  • Multiple function fuel based pumps designed for domestic use can still save an estimated 30% with the added bonus of also providing more efficient water heating.
  • Natural gas based heating pumps connected with air conditioners aim to use a very low emission boiler to cater for all domestic needs regardless of the season. Of all three options, this is the most complete package and the one most likely to become widespread in the coming years.

These styles of heat pumps are also going to be used to significantly reduce the energy used by clothes drying machines. General Electric has been already near completing their first gas pump compatible dryer. This is intended to reduce the energy consumption of perhaps the least efficient appliance in the home by up to 60%.

6. Even Better LED Lighting

Energy saving lighting may have become the accepted norm in many households, and the good news is that it is set to become even better. At present these are up to 85% more efficient than old fashioned incandescent bulbs, but the next generation – scheduled for a few years time – promise to double their efficiency. An improvement up to 230 lumens (from the current 115) is forecast.

8% of all electricity consumption in the USA are due to lighting homes and businesses. Having that figure will make for a huge national saving and reduction of energy costs across the board. (Source:https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=99&t=3)

7. Advanced Window Insulation

While still in development this may not sound like a huge advance, but could well result in enormous net energy savings down the line. Using microprocessors and sensors to measure sunlight and radiant heat, these are going to automatically provide shading to assist with providing ideal natural lighting and also assist with heating. Expect these to be integrated with the general smart home system outlined above in due course.

Final Thoughts

So there we have seven of the most exciting and interesting developments that we can expect to see in the home over the coming years. While some are already in production while others are just passing the prototype phase, the future is looking positive in terms of reducing emissions and better managing energy consumption. Energy efficiency is here to stay and these developments will likely only be the tip of the iceberg compared to what we can look forward to over coming decades.

Food Waste Management in UK

Food-Waste-UKFood waste in the United Kingdom is a matter of serious environmental, economic and social concern that has been attracting widespread attention in recent years. According to ‘Feeding the 5K’ organisation, 13,000 slices of crusts are thrown away every day by a single sandwich factory which is featured in the figure above. More recently, Tesco, one of the largest UK food retailers, has published its sustainability report admitting that the company generated 28,500 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013. TESCO’s report also state that 47% of the bakery produced is wasted. In terms of GHG emissions, DEFRA estimated that food waste is associated with 20 Mt of CO2 equivalent/year, which is equivalent to 3% of the total annual GHG emissions.

Globally, 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes (30%-50%) of food produced is thrown away before it reaches a human stomach. Food waste, if conceived as a state, is responsible for 3.3 Bt-CO2 equivalent/year, which would make it the third biggest carbon emitter after China and USA. What makes food waste an even more significant issue is the substantially high demand for food which is estimated to grow 70% by 2050 due to the dramatic increase of population which is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2075. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address food waste as a globally challenging issue which should be considered and tackled by sustainable initiatives.

A War on Food Waste

The overarching consensus to tackle the food waste issue has led to the implementation of various policies. For instance, the European Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) set targets to reduce organic waste disposed to landfill in 2020 to 35% of that disposed in 1995 (EC 1999). More recently, the European Parliament discussed a proposal to “apply radical measures” to halve food waste by 2025 and to designate the 2014 year as “the European Year Against Food Waste”. In the light of IMechE’s report (2013), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with FAO has launched the Save Food Initiative in an attempt to reduce food waste generated in the global scale.

In the UK, WRAP declared a war on food waste by expanding its organic waste programme in 2008 which was primarily designed to “establish the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways of diverting household food waste from landfill that leads to the production of a saleable product”. DEFRA has also identified food waste as a “priority waste stream” in order to achieve better waste management performance. In addition to governmental policies, various voluntary schemes have been introduced by local authorities such as Nottingham Declaration which aims to cut local CO2 emissions 60% by 2050.

Sustainable Food Waste Management

Engineering has introduced numerous technologies to deal with food waste. Many studies have been carried out to examine the environmental and socio-economic impacts of food waste management options. This article covers the two most preferable options; anaerobic digestion and composting.

In-vessel composting (IVC) is a well-established technology which is widely used to treat food waste aerobically and convert it into a valuable fertilizer. IVC is considered a sustainable option because it helps by reducing the amount of food waste landfilled. Hence, complying with the EU regulations, and producing a saleable product avoiding the use of natural resources. IVC is considered an environmentally favourable technology compared with other conventional options (i.e. landfill and incineration). It contributes less than 0.06% to the national greenhouse gas inventories. However, considering its high energy-intensive collection activities, the overall environmental performance is “relatively poor”.

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a leading technology which has had a rapidly growing market over the last few years. AD is a biologically natural process in which micro-organisms anaerobically break down food waste and producing biogas which can be used for both Combined Heat & Power (CHP) and digestate that can be used as soil fertilizers or conditioners. AD has been considered as the “best option” for food waste treatment. Therefore, governmental and financial support has been given to expand AD in the UK.

AD is not only a food waste treatment technology, but also a renewable source of energy. For instance, It is expected that AD would help the UK to meet the target of supplying 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Furthermore, AD technology has the potential to boost the UK economy by providing 35,000 new jobs if the technology is adopted nationally to process food waste. This economic growth will significantly improve the quality of life among potential beneficiaries and thus all sustainability elements are considered.

Green Ways to Travel the Globe

According to a recent report, 87% of travelers want to travel more sustainably, but only 39% say that they accomplish the task on most or all occasions. Well, in a world that often focuses so heavily on comfort and convenience, it’s understandable. Many cultures and individuals are certainly making great efforts to lead eco-friendly lives, but many are still left wondering how to make those changes. Read on to explore a wide array of green ways to travel the globe.

Where You Go

Carefully choose your destination. Shorter distances without air travel are ideal, but obviously, that’s not always possible. So, if you’re planning to travel a little further, look into visiting destinations that value sustainability as well. It will be easier if the surrounding culture has the same eco-goals.

Places like Amsterdam are great because they do not rely heavily on vehicular transportation. They stick to bikes and their own two feet most of the time which makes a huge difference. Additionally, make sure that you’re not visiting a destination that is already overwhelmed with tourists and travelers to the point of causing harm. You don’t want to be a part of the problem.

How You Get There

It’s no secret that air travel is a unideal form of transportation right now, but since it is often unavoidable, there are a few small things that can help. First, do your research and choose the most fuel-efficient airline. When you do, book a non-stop, flight and sit economy.

A significant portion of a flight’s emissions is during take-off and landing, and business select or first class is responsible for three times more emissions than economy seating. And in preparation, pack lightly because an aircraft burns more fuel when it is carrying a heavier weight.

But, if you can avoid flying, go for a relaxing train ride. Traveling by train is widely popular in places like Europe and in the United States, you can make it the highlight of your journey.

Where You Stay

Look for accommodations that prioritize sustainability. Do your research and look for places that have certifications from a third party, like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council or the Rainforest Alliance. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have the amenities that you may want or need, it just means that they abide by a particular set of global standards that aim for a more “green” operation.

Parting Shot

Even if you aren’t able to choose the ideal location, avoid air travel, or stay at a certifiably eco-friendly hotel, don’t worry. There is still plenty that you can do to lighten the load. Support the local economy, bring a reusable water bottle, take shorter showers and go for ecotourism. Just do the best that you can, and you’ll be on the right track.

Clean Cookstoves: An Urgent Necessity

Globally, three billion people in the developing nations are solely dependent on burning firewood, crop residues, animal manure etc for preparing their daily meals on open fires, mud or clay stoves or simply on three rocks strategically placed to balance a cooking vessel.  The temperature of these fires are lower and produce inefficient burning that results in black carbon and other short-lived but high impact pollutants.

These short-lived pollutants not only affect the persons in the immediate area but also contribute much harmful gases more potent than carbon dioxide and methane. For the people in the immediate area, their health is severely hampered as this indoor or domestic air pollution results in significantly higher risks of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.

To remedy the indoor air pollution (IAP) and health-related issues as well as the environmental pollution in the developing world, clean cookstoves are the way to advance. But to empower rural users to embrace the advanced cookstoves, and achieve sustainable success requires a level of socio-cultural and economic awareness that is related directly to this marginalized group. The solution needs to be appropriate for the style of cooking of the group which means one stove model will not suit or meet the needs and requirements of all developing nation people groups.

Clean cookstoves can significantly reduce health problems caused by indoor air pollution in rural areas

Consideration for such issues as stove top and front loading stove cooking, single pot and double pot cooking, size of the typical cooking vessel and the style of cooking are all pieces of information needed to complete the picture.  Historically, natural draft systems were devised to aid the combustion or burning of the fuels, however, forced draft stoves tend to burn cleaner with better health and environmental benefits. Regardless of cookstove design, the components need to be either made locally or at least available locally so that the long term life of the stove is maintainable and so sustainable.

Now, if the cookstove unit can by powered by  simple solar or biomass system, this will change the whole nature of the life style and domestic duties of the chief cook and the young siblings who are typically charged with collecting the natural firewood to meet the cooking requirement.

Therefore the cookstoves need to be designed and adapted for the people group and their traditional cooking habits, and not in the reverse order. To assess the overall performance of the green cooking stoves requires simple but effective measures of the air quality. The two elements that need to be measured are the black carbon emissions and the temperature of the cooking device.  This can be achieved by miniature aerosol samplers and temperature sensors. The data collected needs to be transmitted in real-time via mobile phones for verification of performance rates.  This is to provide verifiable data in a cost effective monitoring process.

Where Are All the Electric Vans?

The USA is way behind Europe when it comes to electric vehicles, with sales in Europe exceeding 1 million in 2018, while US figures stood at just 750,000. This is despite the giants of Silicon Valley, including Google, Amazon and Tesla, all making strides to offer electric vehicles to the mass market. The area where the contrast is most clear is in regards to vans. While Europe has many on offer, electric vans are almost non-existent on American roads. Where does this leave commercial enterprises looking to cut their carbon emissions?

Europe Leading the Way

Although hardly the norm, it isn’t uncommon to see fully electric commercial vehicles on European streets. German based DHL are selling over 5000 StreetScooters a year, allowing companies to offer battery powered deliveries. Meanwhile, the UK’s best selling plug in van is the Nissan e-NV200. This attractive commercial vehicle is on sale throughout Europe, selling more than 4000 a year. Unfortunately, it is not available in the US.

If you are a businessman looking to cut fossil fuel usage, while driving a commercial vehicle, then you may be better off moving to Europe. Greenhouse gases in the continent fell 22% between 1990 and 2016. The USA is struggling to keep up with the switch to renewable energy sources.

Is Tesla the Only Game in Town?

Don’t worry – it isn’t all bad news for the USA. With companies like Tesla offering their own electric pickup and semi vehicles, there could be a shift in sale trends soon. However, neither of these vehicles are yet to hit the mass market. Other electric truck or van options are few and far between. The likes of Google are focusing their efforts on creating self-drive vehicles rather than venturing into commercial electric automobiles. 

Other Ways to Cut Carbon Emissions

Keep searching for the perfect electric van for your company. If Europe has them, then you can find one in America. In the meantime, however, consider other ways to cut your carbon footprint. For the running of any electronics, invest in solar power. This has really taken off in the USA and is one of the cheapest options available. You should also try to source products locally and remove plastic packaging from your goods.

Electric vehicles really can’t arrive soon enough, but commercial vans and trucks are yet to become mainstream. The USA needs to take a leaf out of Europe’s book and invest in electric vans. In the meantime, consider switching to solar power and taking other steps to reduce your company’s carbon emissions.

Obstacles in Implementation of Waste-to-Energy

The biggest obstacle to the implementation of Waste-to-Energy (or WTE) lies not in the technology itself but in the acceptance of citizens. Citizens who are environmentally minded but lack awareness of the current status of waste-to-energy bring up concerns of environmental justice and organize around this. They view WTE as ‘dumping’ of pollutants on lower strata of society and their emotional critique rooted in the hope for environmental justice tends to move democracy.

An advocate of public understanding of science, Shawn Lawrence Otto regrets that the facts are not able to hold the same sway. Some US liberal groups such as the Center for American Progress are beginning to realize that the times and science have changed. It will take more consensus on the science and the go ahead from environmental groups before the conversation moves forward, seemingly improbable but not without precedent.

Spittelau Waste-to-Energy Plant

The Spittelau waste-to-energy plant is an example of opposition coming together in consensus over WTE. It was built in Vienna in 1971 with the purpose of addressing district heating and waste management issues. Much later awareness of the risks of dioxins emitted by such plants grew and the people’s faith in the technology was called into question. It also became a political issue whereby opposition parties challenged the mayor on the suitability of the plant. The economic interests of landfill owners also lay in the shutting down of the WTE facility. The alternative was to retrofit the same plant with advanced technology that would remove the dioxins through Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).

Through public discussions it appeared that the majority of the people were against the plant altogether though thorough studies by informed researchers showed that the science backs WTE. The mayor, Helmut Zilk eventually consulted Green Party members on how to make this technology better perceived in the eyes of the people, and asked the famous Austrian artist Freidensreich Hundertwasser, who was a green party member to design the look of the plant. Freidensreich Hundertwasser after carefully studying the subject wrote a letter of support, stating his belief as to why WTE was needed and accepted Mayor Helmut Zilk’s request. Later public opinion polls showed that there were a majority of people who were either in favor of or not opinionated about the plant, with only 3% in outright opposition of the plant.

Polarized Discussion

Waste-to-Energy or recycling has kept public discourse from questioning whether there may not be intermediate or case specific solutions. This polarization serves to move the conversation nowhere. For now it can be agreed that landfills are devastating in their contribution to Climate Change and must be done away with. The choice then, of treatment processes for municipal solid waste are plentiful. If after recovery of recyclable materials there remains a sizeable waste stream the option of waste-to-energy can be explored.

Primary Considerations

  • Environmental implications (i.e. CO2 emissions vis-à-vis the next best fuel source) given the composition of the local waste stream. If the waste stream consists of a high percentage of recyclables the more sustainable waste strategy would be to ramp up recycling efforts rather than to adopt WTE,
  • Likely composition and variation of the waste stream and the feasibility of the technology to handle such a waste stream,
  • Financial considerations with regards to the revenue stream from the WTE facility and its long term viability,
  • Efforts at making citizens aware of the high standards achieved by this technology in order to secure their approval.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Is Green Car Fuel A Reality?

drop-in-biofuelsVehicles remain a huge global pollutant, pumping out 28.85Tg of CO2 in Maharashtra alone, according to a study by the Indian Institute for Science in Bangalore. However, vehicles cannot be discarded, as they form the lifeblood of the country’s towns and cities. Between electric vehicles and hybrids, work is being done to help rectify the situation by making use of green car fuel and technological advancements.

Emissions continue to be a huge issue, and there are two main options for helping to rectify that. The first is electric, which is seeing widespread adoption; and the second, biomass fuel, for more traditional vehicles. Between the two, excellent progress is being made, but there’s much more to be done.

How electric is helping

Electric cars are favoured heavily by the national authorities. A recent Times of India report outlined how the government is aiming for an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2030 and is pushing this through with up to US$16m of electric vehicle grants this year. Green vehicles are obviously a great choice, improving in-city noise and air pollution whilst providing better vehicular safety to boot; a study by the USA’s MIT suggested that electric vehicles are all-around safer than combustion.

However, where EVs fall down to some extent is through the energy they use. As they are charged from the electricity grid, this means that the electricity is largely derived from fossil fuels – official statistics show that India is 44% powered by coal. Ultimately, however, this does mean that emissions are reduced. Fuel is only burned at one source, and oil refining isn’t done at all, which is another source of pollutants. However, as time goes on and the government’s energy policy changes, EVs will continue to be a great option.

The role of biofuels

Biofuels are seeing a huge growth in use – BP has reported that globally, ethanol production grew 3% in 2017. Biofuel is commonly a more favoured option by the big energy companies given the infrastructure often available already to them. While biofuel has been slow on the uptake in India, despite the massive potential available for production, there are now signs this is turning around with the construction of two US$790m biofuel facilities.

Biofuels are increasingly being used to power vehicles around the world

The big benefit of biofuel is that it will have a positive impact on combustion and electric vehicles. The Indian government has stated they intend to use biofuel alongside coal production, with as much as 10% of energy being created using biofuel. Therefore, despite not being emission-free, biofuel will provide a genuine green energy option to both types of eco-friendly vehicle.

Green car fuel is not entirely clean. The energy has to come from somewhere, and in India, this is usually from coal, gas, and oil. However, the increase in biofuel means that this energy will inevitably get cleaner, making green car fuel absolutely a reality.

Your Choices for Alternative Energy

renewables-investment-trendsWhile using alternative sources of energy is a right way for you to save money on your heating and cooling bills, it also allows you to contribute in vital ways to both the environment and the economy.  Alternative energy sources are renewable, environmentally sustainable sources that do not create any by-products that are released into the atmosphere like coal and fossil fuels do.

Burning coal to produce electricity releases particulates and substances such as mercury, arsenic, sulfur and carbon monoxide into the air, all of which can cause health problems in humans.

Other by-products from burning coal are acid rain, sludge run-off and heated water that is released back into the rivers and lakes nearby the coal-fired plants.  While efforts are being made to create “clean coal,” businesses have been reluctant to use the technology due to the high costs associated with changing their plants.

If you are considering taking the plunge and switching to a renewable energy source to save money on your electric and heating bills or to help the environment, you have a lot of decisions to make. The first decision you need to make is which energy source to use in your home or business.  Do you want to switch to solar energy, wind power, biomass energy or geothermal energy?

Emissions from homes using heating oil, vehicles, and electricity produced from fossil fuels also pollute the air and contribute to the number of greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer.  Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that is released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels to create energy and in the use of motor vehicles.  Neither coal nor fossil fuels are sources of renewable energy.

Replacing those energy sources with solar, biomass or wind-powered generators will allow homes and businesses to have an adequate source of energy always at hand.  While converting to these systems can sometimes be expensive, the costs are quickly coming down, and they pay for themselves in just a few short years because they supply energy that is virtually free.  In some cases, the excess energy they create can be bought from the business or the homeowner.

While there are more than these three alternative energy options, these are the easiest to implement on an individual basis.  Other sources of alternative energy, for instance, nuclear power, hydroelectric power, and natural gas require a primary power source for the heat so it can be fed to your home or business.  Solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy can all have power sources in your home or business to supply your needs.

Solar Energy

Solar power is probably the most widely used source of these options.  While it can be expensive to convert your home or business over to solar energy, or to an alternative energy source for that matter, it is probably the most natural source to turn over to.  You can use the sun’s energy to power your home or business and heat water.  It can be used to passively heat or light up your rooms as well just by opening up your shades.

Wind Power

You need your wind turbine to power your home or office, but wind energy has been used for centuries to pump water or for commercial purposes, like grinding grain into flour.  While many countries have wind farms to produce energy on a full-scale basis, you can have your wind turbine at home or at your business to provide electricity for your purposes.

The cost of alternative energy systems has dropped sharply in recent years

Biomass Energy

Biomass energy has rapidly become a vital part of the global renewable energy mix and account for an ever-growing share of electric capacity added worldwide. Biomass is the material derived from plants that use sunlight to grow which include plant and animal material such as wood from forests, material left over from agricultural and forestry processes, and organic industrial, human and animal wastes. Biomass comes from a variety of sources which include wood from natural forests and woodlands, agricultural residues, agro-industrial wastes, animal wastes, industrial wastewater, municipal sewage and municipal solid wastes.

Geothermal Energy

A heat pump helps cool or heat your home or office using the earth’s heat to provide the power needed to heat the liquid that is run through the system to either heat your home in the winter or cool it off in the summer.  While many people use it, it doesn’t provide electricity, so you still need an energy source for that.