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The hunt for pioneering energy storage

Alex Blackburne looks into the difficulties surrounding renewable energy storage, and how some new research, conducted at an American university, might have the answer to the problem.

Clean, renewable energy is one of the main, most important necessities if we’re going to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions. That’s almost universally agreed.

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Alex Blackburne looks into the difficulties surrounding renewable energy storage, and how some new research, conducted at an American university, might have the answer to the problem.

Clean, renewable energy is one of the main, most important necessities if we’re going to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions. That’s almost universally agreed.

But what happens when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining?

Whilst we know that the wind will never cease forever, some days, even in Britain, will be gust-free. This then poses the wind sector something of a challenge as to how to generate power when this happens.

Similarly, and perhaps more relevantly when it comes to Britain, the sun isn’t always out – especially at night – so it wouldn’t be ideal to solely rely on solar power.

This has long been the renewable sector’s downfall and its enemies stick. Obvious comparisons are going to be drawn against the fossil fuel sector. For those that aren’t completely converted to renewable energy, the fact that non-renewable energy sources can potentially generate power for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, sadly wins it on most occasions.

The nature of renewable and non-renewable energies on a level playing field in terms of cost is called ‘grid parity’. When this is achieved is often down to clever guesswork, with a recent study predicting 2018 as when we’ll see price equality in the energy sector.

Whilst the cost of energy, both in renewable and non-renewable form, isn’t universal, the fact that that it’s difficult to store renewables most certainly is.

Those days could be over, though, after researchers at Stanford University claimed to have developeda high-power battery electrode that is so inexpensive to make, so efficient and so durable that it could be used to build batteries big enough for economical large-scale energy storage on the electrical grid“.

If they’re not overselling their achievements, then the Stanford researchers may well have unearthed the Holy Grail of the renewable energy sector.

“At a rate of several cycles per day, this electrode would have a good 30 years of useful life on the electrical grid”, said Colin Wessells, the lead author of a paper describing the research, whilst Yi Cui, co-author of the paper, described the development as a “breakthrough performance”.

According to New Energy and Fuel, though, the Stanford team are only part-way there to achieving practical renewable energy storage, meaning the Holy Grail is still somewhat buried.

“Every battery needs two electrodes”, it writes, “a high voltage cathode and a low voltage anode — in order to create the voltage difference that produces the electricity to flow.

“The researchers need to find another material to use for the anode before they can build an actual battery.”

It will take some time before we truly have symmetry between renewable and non-renewable energy in terms of cost and storage. Renewables, though, remain the smart and environmentally-friendly choice.

That is why investment in ethical funds is so important – because you’d be helping the industry to develop, often with lucrative financial rewards.

If you would like more information about investing ethically, ask your financial adviser, if you have one, or complete our online form and we’ll connect you with a specialist ethical adviser. If you are interested in converting to renewable energy in your home, then head to Good Energy.

Photo: Ethan Lofton

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Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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5 Software Applications Green Businesses Need to Streamline Management

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Green Businesses

Green businesses face even more challenges than their traditional counterparts. Every green business faces logistical obstacles, due to increasingly cumbersome regulations, growing data needs and resource limitations. Major advances in HR IT solutions offer the solutions these companies need.  In addition to simplifying their business processes, these solutions reduce their carbon footprint by minimizing paper needs.

For a large business to run smoothly, there are several types of software it needs. From enterprise resource planning (ERP) to human resources (HR) software, the programs needed to run a large business are as important as the employees you hire. Learn more about the type of software available, what it does and why you need it, so you can choose the options that are right for your business.

ERP Software

ERP software is the most important software in your arsenal, so it’s important to choose your product wisely. ERP software handles everything from production planning and quality management to financials. This is the software that shares information between your manufacturing process and business systems. Software such as ERP 4.0 gives you all the real-time insights needed for your strategic planning process, and works with your other systems to ensure the information you receive is current and accurate at all times.

HR Software

HR software helps your HR department with hiring, managing, disciplining and firing employees. It holds all of your company’s policies and procedures, keeps all of your employee’s information and lets you streamline your hiring process. In addition to handling everything employee-related, your HR software handles your employee payroll, automating the process so that your employees have more time to focus on more important tasks.

Shift Planning Software

Shift planning software works in conjunction with your HR software to help HR employees and managers create and maintain employee shifts. Using shift planning software makes managing schedules simple. Managers can enter their employee’s schedules quickly, and the employees can access the shift planning software remotely so they always know when they have to work. When used in conjunction with HR software, employees can submit digital requests for time off, giving them the flexibility they need to manage their own lives while reducing the amount of dropped shifts and miscommunication between management and employees.

Accounting Software

Your company’s accounting software is also extremely important. It handles all of the money coming and going from your company, manages department-specific budgets and connects to your HR system to simplify the payroll and accounts payable/receivable processes. Large businesses need robust accounting software that handles all of the little financial details; has the ability to communicate with your HR and ERP software; and has the ability to handle any and all tax issues. If you’re concerned that a software vendor may not offer what you need, you should consider looking at open-source accounting software. This way, the software you use can be customized to your company’s specific needs.

Open-Source Software

For any company, keeping all of its employees on the same page at all times is critical. However, it’s even more important for large businesses, because it’s a more detailed process. To streamline your workflow and keep all of your employees on the same page, open-source software is a great option. Open-source software, as we mentioned, is customizable, so you can alter it to fit your company’s needs. This means you would have one main software that communicates with your ERP software, HR software, shift scheduling software and accounting software. It’s a one-stop shop for all of the smaller programs that run your business. For large businesses that have multiple departments, as well as departments within departments, open-source software is a great option.

Ultimately, the software you decide to use with your business is completely up to you. Make a list of each type of software needed for your business to run smoothly, and test a few different options to find the one that best fits your needs.

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