• Climate hub
  • 7 Jan 2022
  • 6 min read

Positive energy: the latest sustainable innovations

By Amy Hamilton Chadwick

Solving the problems of our carbon-reliant world

Some of the smartest minds around the world are trying to solve the problems of our carbon-reliant world – with incredible results. From EV lanes that charge your car as you drive, to massive leaps ahead in solar and wind technology, here are some of the most recent developments in renewable energy innovation.

Charge your electric vehicle while you drive

Is your EV running low on battery as you zoom along the motorway? In the future you should be able to move across into a charging lane for a quick energy boost as you drive.

That’s the vision for a group of innovators who are working on building wireless charging infrastructure – roads, footpaths and commercial spaces that can power up electric vehicles as they travel along.

Wireless charging lanes on motorways are slowly becoming reality as technology improves and construction costs come down. Most use renewably-powered transmitter coils, buried in the roadway, to provide a wireless charging field that can power the vehicles travelling along the lane – it’s similar to the way wireless smartphone charging surfaces work. If your vehicle has a receiver fitted, it will be able to recharge as you drive, and an app will keep track of the electricity you use so you can pay for it.

The world’s first wireless charging concrete highway is scheduled to begin construction later this year in the USA.

“The only way people are going to buy electric cars is if they’re just as easy to refuel as combustion engines,” Khurram Afridi, a wireless infrastructure researcher at Cornell University, told Business Insider Australia. “If we had this technology the electric vehicles would have even less limitations than traditional ones.” 

Supersized turbines push the boundaries of wind power

Wind turbines just keep getting bigger, allowing offshore wind farms to generate ever-increasing amounts of renewable energy. Only four years ago, the largest offshore wind turbine was 8 megawatts, and now both 15MW and 16MW turbines are in development. The 15MW Danish turbine is due to be installed next year, and will generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes. Just one offshore wind farm can now power one million homes for a year.

New Zealand currently generates 690MW of power from 17 onshore wind farms, which is about 6% of our national electricity use. Australian company Oceanex has plans to develop offshore wind farms here, probably in Taranaki; research by the University of Otago indicates we could potentially generate at least another 8000MW from offshore wind farms.

How wind turbines are built

Supersized wind turbines could help us get even more capacity from offshore wind power. Larger blades ‘capture’ more wind, are more cost-efficient, and open up lower-wind areas for wind farm installation. The technology has come so far that now, the biggest limiting factor for the size of turbines is transporting the blades to the installation site. Once they’re up, these massive turbines are incredibly good at capturing energy.

"It's just astonishing," Guy Dorrell, of turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa, told the BBC. "We've worked out that a single turn of a 14MW turbine would power a Tesla Model 3 for 352km."

The first-ever batch of green steel is delivered to Volvo

In mid-2021, the first-ever batch of ‘green steel’ was delivered – made entirely without coal. Made using renewable electricity and hydrogen, the steel was produced in Sweden by Hybrit, and was sent to Volvo, where the carmaker plans to trial it in truck manufacture before rolling it out for wider production.

Another Swedish start-up, H2 Green Steel, has signed an agreement with BMW to supply green steel for its car manufacturing. BMW wants to reduce its steel carbon emissions by 2 million tonnes by 2030.

Here in New Zealand, our steel and iron production is responsible for 55% of industrial emissions, and 5% of total emissions, according to Victoria University. Researchers from Victoria have already demonstrated hydrogen-based ironmaking here and are hoping to scale up this technology in New Zealand. 

For Hybrit, switching to green steel is “the greatest thing we can do together for the climate … The goal is to deliver fossil-free steel to the market and demonstrate the technology on an industrial scale as early as 2026.”

Could a solar driveway power your home?

Solar panels aren’t just for roofs – if they’re strong enough, they can go into any surface. 

A new solar system, made from interlocking tiles, provides robust arrays that are stronger than concrete, so they’re ideal for use in residential driveways. Each tile is manufactured from the equivalent of 400 plastic bottles and can withstand a car driving over it. These tiles can be grid-connected or used off-grid and can be installed in gardens, roof terraces and footpaths. They’re effective, too: a 20m2 solar array on your driveway could generate enough electricity to power your entire house.

Hungarian company Platio, which makes the solar tiles, also installed Spain’s first photovolataic footpaths in April 2021.

"If we’re going to reach a target of zero emissions, we’re going to have to think about supplying electricity to blocks of flats, but we’ll also have to think of using wind and solar parks outside the city,” Elio Badia, of Barcelona City Council, told the Guardian. “Installations on the ground like this open up new possibilities.”  

The first home solar pavement

Plug-and-play technology makes solar farms more scalable

Solar farms can now be installed more quickly and safely than ever before, thanks to ground-breaking modular panels made by Australian start-up 5B. The new Maverick solar array is 30% more powerful than the previous generation of panels and easier to manufacture, as well as being quicker and safer to deploy. 

The team at 5B believes a ‘platform ecosystem’ can speed up the adoption of solar farms worldwide – a solar array is designed once, then manufactured across the world to the same specs and quickly able to be installed at more sites.   

5B Maverick - solar speed record

“We don’t need to just get faster in terms of how fast we can deploy a solar array, the reality is that we need to get faster in how quickly we can scale this industry,” Simeon Baker-Finch, 5B CTO, told PV Magazine Australia. “The strategy is to design one and build many. That is what we’re trying to get at with this new generation. We have optimised a design that is easier to manufacture so it is much easier to scale up.”

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