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Five technological resource saving innovations

Technology alone may not be enough to save us in the fight against resource depletion, but there are some great advances pointing us in the right direction. They’re not widespread and they’re not necessarily cheap because conversion to new technology takes time – costs tend to be high initially as the technology proves its worth. Then, if it shows enough promise, a tipping point is reached and the cost starts to fall.

So you might not want to invest yet but if you’re interested in what new tech is appearing on the horizon, read on…

1. Energy storage

One of the biggest challenges the green technology world has faced is energy storage. At the moment, renewable energy cannot be spread equally throughout the day or year. You get electricity when the sun is shining or when the wind is blowing. But finding ways to store it for times when it’s not, has been tricky, especially for wind. There have been some advances in electric battery storage for use with solar PV and off-peak electricity however. Costs are still a little on the high side but should start to drop. Normally with solar PV, any excess produced would go back to the grid. When the sun’s not shining you have to buy it back. With a battery, at least some of the excess would be stored meaning you don’t need to buy as much back. Powervault UK claims its battery storage can reduce electricity bills by 20-35 per cent.

Another exciting development is in heat storage such as Sunamp’s heat battery. Sunamp points out that 42 per cent of the energy we consume is heat, and only 17 per cent is electricity. Yet the energy storage market has typically focused on electrical batteries. Their heat batteries can be used with solar existing boilers as well as solar PV, heat pumps and off-peak electricity. Multiple batteries can be linked for use in larger buildings. In industry, they can be used as a type of heat recovery unit, storing waste heat from processes and moving it to where it’s needed.

2. Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED)

Lighting can be a huge cost for Scottish businesses, with our near Arctic levels of daylight in winter. Switching to LEDs can result in substantial cost-savings. And out on the distant horizon, a new generation of LEDs called OLEDS, or ‘organic light emitting diodes’ is gathering apace. OLEDs promise to provide a more natural light, long after the sun goes down, and can be used in monitors and screens or for lighting.

OLEDs consist of a thin film of material that emits light, which is different from the more traditional point source light bulb. They can be used on many surfaces, and could even be coated onto a whole wall as a light emitting wallpaper. The light produced is diffuse and the closest of all artificial light options to mimicking natural light. They’re super-efficient and don’t contain any bad metals, making them greener than traditional bulbs and LEDs. Instead they use an organic, carbon-based material that emits light when electricity is applied through them.

At the moment OLEDs are pricey, and they don’t last as long as LEDs, but advances are being made at a fast pace. Once they start to be mass-produced, prices will start to drop. Forecasts expect the market will take off by 2025.

3. Fuel cell micro combined heat and power (CHP)

Cars powered by fuel cells, like the DeLorean DMC-12 in the Back to the Future movie, might not be as futuristic as they seem. We can’t report their arrival to a garage near you yet, but we can tell you that fuel cell micro CHP is on trend as a future energy source for domestic and commercial buildings. Since conventional micro CHP is itself an emerging technology, this is quite a development.

Fuel cell micro CHP systems work in a similar way to a battery but without the storage. They convert chemical energy into electrical energy and heat, and can be operated by a number of different fuels so long as they’re hydrogen rich – for example, renewable options like methanol, chlorine and, of course, hydrogen itself.

Fuel cell micro CHP has greater operating efficiency and lower emissions than current conventional energy sources. The producers of fuel cell micro CHP promise they’re an easy replacement for traditional boilers and plug the gap left when other renewable options like heat pumps, biomass or solar just don’t make sense. This makes them an attractive option to meet growing future energy demand and alleviate pressure on the national grid.

4. Next generation heat pumps

While current heat pumps are viable in Scotland, drawing heat from water or air even at temperatures as low as -15°C (5°F), they’re not as efficient when it’s cold. As such, they often need a backup energy source. The new generation of heat pumps, however, promises better working in colder climes. And some newer models of heat pumps can heat as well as cool.

In a standard heat pump, the compressor is single-speed, with two modes – on and off. This means the compressor is activated when heat is required and works to its maximum output to fulfil demand. The new intelligent heat pumps have variable speed compressors so that the heat pump can automatically adjust itself to the power demand of the property. This makes them way more efficient and able to provide up to 50 per cent more heating capacity than a similarly sized traditional system. It also results in reduced energy consumption and therefore optimal savings.

5. Electric heating

Electric heating might seem a little retro to count as an innovation. Nevertheless, with mainly gas-powered domestic heating accounting for 47% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, there’s a lot of room for improvement. And with the planned large scale de-carbonisation of the grid and a growing number of small scale renewable energy options, it seems likely that electric heating is going to make a comeback.

The cheap price of gas caused electric heating to fall out of favour over the last few decades but electric heating has many advantages. It’s safer. It’s 100 per cent efficient at converting fuel into heat. It doesn’t depend on temperamental boilers and it doesn’t need a gas supply. According to the Energy Saving Trust, by 2050, grid-based electric heating will have lower carbon emissions than an A-rated gas boiler.

Infrared (IR) heaters, such as Herschel IR heaters, are another option. They’re more efficient than regular electric heaters because they don’t warm the air, they warm objects, such as you and the walls. This means they reduce condensation, which is caused by warm air meeting cold surfaces. And makes them perfect for damp climates like Scotland. While they might not be good for heating a whole building, they could be good for some rooms, for example damp basements, because they can dry out walls, plaster and fabrics.

So that’s a bit of mid to long-term future-gazing. But if you want to do something in the near future to help cut your resource use and costs, do get in touch with one of our staff at 0808 808 2268 or email us.

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