Remember when the idea of generating electricity from wind turbines and solar panels seemed really cool? No denying their benefits, but they are sooo last year.
Energy folks have gazed with envy at those who work in telecommunications for a long time. They invented the cell phone. Energy wanted its own thingamabob that would completely revolutionize its market. Now, with all of the thought, money and politics backing energy tinkerers, forget the cell phone. I suspect Energy is approaching a “Beam me up, Scottie” breakthrough.
Here are a few of my favorite new contraptions and concepts.
- My dog, the power plant: After scooping up after your dog, you throw the poop into what is called a ‘Park Spark,’ a device with gas tanks attached to a streetlamp. You turn a wheel to generate methane from the dog poop and the light comes on. This is not a hypothetical. A Park Spark is operating at a park in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- My commute, the power plant: The public relations person who emailed me this information wrote in the subject line, ‘Very Cool Smart Grid/Transportation Announcement.’ I thought, ‘Oh sure, how many times have I heard that from a PR person?’ But yeah, it is.
Viridity Energy and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority are tapping into the growing use of waste energy. (We in the US apparently waste about as much energy as the Japanese use in total.) In this case, Viridity software works to capture the energy created when a train brakes. The excess power is stored in a battery and then sold to the power grid. The first test will occur at Philadelphia’s busiest subway line. If it works, it may spread to public transportation systems across the country.
“The project will pair the latest 21st century technologies and energy optimization practices with one of the country’s oldest transportation systems, dating back to the deployment of electric trolleys in 1892,” says Viridity’s news release. “Mass transit systems across the country are striving to maintain high quality service while facing growing fiscal challenges which are further compounded by rising energy costs. The pilot represents a large and untapped potential for transit systems to help meet these challenges and at the same time improve grid reliability in highly populated urban neighborhoods.”
Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry’s top magazines and newsletters. She is publisher of the Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.