The problem of renewable energy is arguably the most pressing of our time. As governments scramble to keep up with the pressures of rising temperatures and public demand, the need for large-scale energy solutions continues to grow exponentially.
Sourcing, storing and distributing power have been among the key issues that have held society back in its pursuit of renewable sources. Innovators have laboured for years over questions of where to find tomorrow’s energy, how to store solar and wind energy, and how to get it to the people who need it.
These questions have proven to not just be theoretical. This year’s European summer raised one of these problems as the winds in the North Sea slowed down significantly, leaving countries like the UK in need of other sources of energy. While the UK could fall back on its gas and coal power this time, the question of renewable-energy sources became urgent and undeniable: what do we do when the wind stops blowing?
Innovations of the last few years have made significant progress is answering these questions, however, and we are increasingly seeing solutions arise from the most surprising of places.
Here are five places presenting unexpected answers to our energy questions.
Electric cars may offer solutions to our transport-fuelled carbon emissions, but they come with roadblocks of their own. Their limited battery range requires regular charging stations, which many places are still lacking.
However, recent innovations should see a charging solution present itself within a few years. Emerging technology referred to as dynamic charging involves the wireless transmission of electricity to electric cars directly from the road they drive on. Pads underneath the road will transmit power to receiving pads within the vehicle, allowing it to charge up its battery as it drives. Highways might come with a charging lane that electric vehicles could drive on and later pay for, decreasing the need for regular charging.
Overcoming such a hurdle would increase the viability of electric vehicles significantly and make the ambitious goals of governments to have millions on the road much more attainable.
Similar to the notion of charging as you go, another recent innovation offers a kind of wooden flooring for households that turns footsteps into electricity. With this technology, wooden floors are laced with silicone and nanocrystals forming a nanogenerator. Wood is electrically charged through contact and separation when the pressure of a person’s foot is applied to it. This electric charge is similar to the way electricity is produced when a balloon is rubbed on a person’s hair. While wood is a highly ineffective energy conductor, the presence of silicone and nanocrystals around it makes this energy solution possible. Individuals can become producers of their own energy within their own homes with this technology.
Another domestic-based energy solution has been developed by architecture and building company Onion Flats in Philadelphia. The company’s development of an apartment complex called Front Flats has used a kind of windowpane to generate solar power. The four-story block of 28 apartments in Philadelphia has achieved the goal of being net-zero by featuring 492 windowpanes that double as translucent solar panels. It has already proved its viability by successfully generating more than enough of its own power in 2020 and selling its excess to the grid.
Beyond the domestic world, China has announced plans to launch a fleet of solar panels into space which will beam the solar energy collected back to earth. The power plant, set to launch by 2035, will convert solar energy into laser or microwaves that will be sent back to earth. Being set in space means it can avoid the problems created by the fluxes of weather, clouds, day and night – exactly the kinds of problems faced by the UK recently. Beams of energy will be fed back to the receiving station in Chongqing, which will convert them to electricity for the grid.
Researchers in the US are making similar advances towards such a reality, the technology of which was dreamed up more than 100 years ago by Nikola Tesla. Having designed the Tesla Coil, a device that transmitted energy without wires, he worked on an energy station that could transmit energy across long distances using strategically placed towers.
In line with exactly this vision and using very similar technology to that just mentioned, New Zealand company Emrod is innovating in the field of energy transmission by using a network of antennas to move energy around the country without wires. Long-range electromagnetic waves are transmitted from place to place via the antennas. The use of lasers in the technology shuts down the transmission when it detects an object, such as a helicopter.
Technology like this solves many of the problems raised by renewable energy. It allows for the generation of electricity regardless of weather conditions and harsh terrains, as well as making possible the wireless transmission of energy on a large scale. This could open up doors for energy accessibility much more broadly, and be used to move it to places where it is needed quickly and viably.
The problems posed by sustainable energy are significant, but they are certainly not unsolvable. The innovations the world has seen over the last couple of years present solutions that will allow not only better generation, storage and distribution of energy, but will create a world around it that is much more efficient and effective in its processes. These are the innovations that will make an environmentally and economically sustainable future possible and will truly and effectively bring power to the people.
 Wallace, J 2021, “Energy Prices in Europe Hit Records After Wind Stops Blowing”, The Wall Street Journal, 13 September.
 Stefan, A.D. 2021, “Roads That Charge Electric Cars Wirelessly Are Springing Up Everywhere!”, Intelligent Living, 11 August.
 Grover, N 2021, “Hi-tech wooden flooring can turn footsteps into electricity”, The Guardian, 2 September.
 Gold, R. 2021, “An architecture firm’s push to build net-zero apartments”, The Wall Street Journal, 5 February.
 Morrison, R 2021, “China reveals plans to launch a fleet of mile-long solar panels into space to beam energy back to Earth by 2035 – and says the system could have the same output as a nuclear power station by 2050”, Daily Mail, 18 August.
 Brhambhatt, R 2021, “Welcome to the Age of Wireless Electricity”, Interesting Engineering, 1 September.
Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.
About the author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.