Sustainability-in-Tech : 600% Data-Centre Electricity Increase In a Decade

In a speech shared on LinkedIn, National Grid Chief Executive, John Pettigrew, highlighted how demand for electricity from commercial data centres will increase six-fold, within just ten years.

Double The Demand On The Grid By 2050 

Comparing today’s problem of grid network constraint to that of the 1950s, Mr Pettigrew identified the key challenges of demand on the grid growing dramatically, and forecast to double by 2050 as heat, transport and industry continue to electrify.

Why The Dramatic Increase In Data Centre Power Demand? 

Mr Pettigrew put the dramatic predicted six-fold commercial data centre power demand down to factors like the future growth in foundational technologies like AI and quantum computing requiring larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure.

Innovative Thinking Required 

Mr Pettigrew also highlighted how the UK’s high voltage ‘supergrid’ of overhead pylons and cables that powered the UK’s industries and economy over decades is now 70 years old. As such, faced with the challenge of needing to “create a transmission network for tomorrow’s future” Mr Pettigrew suggested that we are at a “pivotal moment” that “requires innovative thinking and bold actions.”

Possible Solutions 

One possible solution, highlighted in Mr Pettigrew’s speech, for creating a grid that can meet future demands is the construction of an ultra-high voltage onshore transmission network of up to 800 thousand volts. It’s thought that this could be “superimposed on the existing supergrid” to create a “super-supergrid” which could enable bulk power transfers around the country. One key advantage of this approach could be using strategically located ultra-high capacity substations which can support the connection of large energy sources to big demand centres, including data centres, via the new network.

Power-Hungry 

It has long been known that data centres are power-hungry and require enormous amounts of water (for cooling), as well as needing to find sustainable solutions for using the excess heat productively. Factors such as the growth in cloud computing and the IoT, as well as the huge power demands of AI, have been identified as key factors driving the growing need for energy by data centres. Recent ideas for how to provide cooling for data centres have included immersion cooling / submerging servers in liquid and even having them submerged under the sea as underwater data centres. Ideas for producing enough power have included building dedicated small nuclear power stations / Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) adjoining each data centre. Ideas for how to best use the excess heat include heating nearby homes and businesses and even growing algae which can then be used to power other data centres and create bioproducts.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The growth in cloud computing, the IoT, and now AI, have all meant an increase in the demand for more power. All of this comes at a time when there is a need to decarbonise and move towards greener and more sustainable energy sources. This rapidly increasing demand, coupled with the constraints of an ageing, creaking grid (as highlighted in the recent speech by John Pettigrew), means that there is now an urgent need for innovative ideas and the action to match if the UK’s businesses are to be served with the power they need to fuel the tech-driven future.

The ideas, however, must be ones that not only meet the demand for power from UK businesses and data centres, but do so in a sustainable way that meets decarbonising targets. As highlighted by Mr Pettigrew, creating a “super-supergrid” is an idea currently on the table, but a boost in wind, wave, solar, nuclear, and other power sources, as well as more carbon offsetting by data centre owners, and many other cooling and excess data centre heat distribution ideas will likely all contribute to these targets in the coming years. Also, although running AI models is a major power drain, ironically, AI may also help to provide solutions for how to manage the country’s energy requirements more efficiently and efficiently.

Sustainability-in-Tech : World’s First Bio-Circular Data Centre

French data centre company, Data4, says its new project will create a world-first way of reusing data centre heat and captured CO2 to grow algae which can then be used to power other data centres and create bioproducts.

Why? 

The R&D project, involving Data4 working with the University of Paris-Saclay, is an attempt to tackle the strategic challenge of how best to reuse and not to waste / lose the large amount of heat produced by data centres. For example, even the better schemes which use it to heat nearby homes only manage to exploit 20 per cent of the heat produced

Also, the growth of digital technology and the IoT, AI, and the amount of data stored in data centres (+35 per cent / year worldwide), mean that those in the data centre industry must up their game to reduce their carbon footprint and meet environmental targets.

Re-Using Heat To Grow Algae 

Data4’s project seeks to reuse the excess data centre heat productively in a novel new way. Data4’s plan is to use the heat to help reproduce a natural photosynthesis mechanism by using some of the captured CO2 to grow algae. This Algae can then be recycled as biomass to develop new sources of circular energy and reusing it in the manufacture of bioproducts for other industries (cosmetics, agri-food, etc.).

Super-Efficient 

Patrick Duvaut, Vice-President of the Université Paris-Saclay and President of the Fondation Paris-Saclay has highlighted how a feasibility study of this new idea has shown that the efficiency of this carbon capture “can be 20 times greater than that of a tree (for an equivalent surface area)” 

Meets Two Major Challenges 

Linda Lescuyer, Innovation Manager at Data4, has highlighted how using the data centre heat in this unique way means: “This augmented biomass project meets two of the major challenges of our time: food security and the energy transition.” 

How Much? 

The project has been estimated to cost around €5 million ($5.4 million), and Data4’s partnership with the university for the project is expected to run for 4 years. Data4 says it hopes to have a first prototype to show in the next 24 months.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Whereas other plans for tackling the challenges of how best to deal with the excess heat from data centres have involved more singular visions such as simply using the heat in nearby homes or to experiment with better ways of cooling servers, Data4’s project offers a more unique, multi-benefit, circular perspective. The fact that it not only utilises the heat grow algae, but that the algae makes a biomass that can be used to solve 2 major world issues in a sustainable way – food security and the energy transition – makes it particularly promising. Also, this method offers additional spin-off benefits for other industries e.g., through manufacturing bioproducts for other industries. It can also help national economies where its operated and help and the environment by creating local employment, and by helping to develop the circular economy. Data4’s revolutionary industrial ecology project, therefore, looks as though it has the potential to offer a win/win for many different stakeholders, although there will be a two-year wait for a prototype.

Sustainability-in-Tech : First For Energy-Saving Magnetic Levitation Train

Italian firm IronLev has claimed to have completed the first-ever magnetic levitation (maglev) test on an existing train track.

Energy Saving Potential 

The use of maglev technology for trains is particularly valuable because, if scaled up, it has the potential to reduce costs and energy usage as the industry seeks more efficient systems. This is because, unlike traditional trains that rely on wheels and rails (thereby creating significant friction), the idea of maglev trains is to levitate the train above the tracks using powerful magnets. The absence of physical contact with the track eliminates the wear and tear on tracks and wheels, leading to lower maintenance costs.

Also, the reduced friction means maglev trains require less energy to achieve and maintain high speeds, making them more energy efficient. Extra energy savings may also come from the trains’ streamlined design (minimising air resistance). Other benefits of maglev for trains are reduced noise and vibration for those living near train tracks.

Test Video 

Recently, at the LetExpo2024 trade fair in the Veneto region, Italian company Ironlev (from Treviso) showcased a video of its apparently successful maglev test on a conventional train track. The video showed a one-ton prototype traveling at a speed of 70 km/h (43 mph) over a two-kilometre stretch of line in the hinterland of Venice.

A First 

Massimo Bergamasco, director of the Institute of Mechanical Intelligence at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, said: “The test carried out by IronLev represents the first and only case of magnetic levitation applied to an existing railway track without requiring the modification or integration of accessory elements.” 

IronLev’s Chairperson, Adriano Girotto, also highlighted how Ironlev’s ability to create a workable new solution that uses existing infrastructure is an improvement on many of the mostly ad hoc stabs at achieving maglev train travel by others. Mr Girotto said: “Some of our competitors have carried out tests on specific tracks built to accommodate a magnetic levitation vehicle. We have demonstrated that our vehicle can levitate on an existing track.” 

Already Used In China, Korea, and Japan 

Although Ironlev can claim a first for magnetic levitation being applied to an existing railway track without needing modifications, maglev trains are already in use in China, South Korea, and Japan, albeit in very small numbers. Also, a maglev train was run in Germany just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Other Applications Of Maglev By Ironlev 

Interestingly, Ironlev is already finding other practical uses for its maglev technology, e.g. to move heavy windows, for elevators, and to transport loads within industrial settings.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Although only successful in a test so far, Ironlev’s maglev technology shows great promise in many key areas. For example, if rolled out at scale, not only could it help the rail industry to decarbonise, save energy, and meet targets, but it may also improve performance and lessen the impact on homes close to railway.

Ironlev’s technology’s apparent success is rooted in its ability to solve two of the key challenges that have been holding back maglev railways up until now, i.e. it costs less than previous efforts and it can run on existing infrastructure without the need for costly, complicated, and time-consuming modifications. Also, as Ironlev has pointed out, its maglev technology can be leveraged in other areas, such as for elevators, thereby promising many other possible opportunities in different industries.

Although still at the testing stage, Ironlev’s system shows how existing technology can be modified to overcome a major challenge, thereby enabling that technology to evolve and benefit not just a whole industry, but our pressing collective need to decarbonise.

Sustainability-in-Tech : ‘Gasification’ of Waste Tea Powers Factories

The ‘gasification’ of waste tea prunings is being used to both provide free energy for factories in Kenya and to decarbonise the tea sector.

Gasification 

UK-based waste-to-energy company Compact Syngas Solutions (CSS) has developed a ‘gasification’ process which can convert biomass and other feedstocks into synthesis gas (syngas), which can be used to generate heat and power.

Challenges 

In Kenya, where half of the tea drunk in the UK originates from, the tea industry faces challenges including:

– An unreliable and expensive electricity grid. This grid cuts out for an hour a day on average, meaning that tea producers must rely on diesel generators for power and wood for heat. As well as being disruptive, it is not environmentally friendly.

– Fertile soils are needed for tea, yet using fertilisers at scale can be expensive and can also be environmentally unfriendly.

How ‘Gasification’ Technology Can Help 

The ‘Micro-Hub’ modular gasification system from CSS can provide the following solutions to the above-mentioned challenges in the tea industry by:

– Being able to run 24/7, thereby addressing the outages that cause the disruption and the need for diesel generators, and matching the peak demand of tea factories.

– Generating energy from waste products, such as biomass like waste wood, tea cuttings, and other selected non-recyclable materials. Also, the power and hydrogen produced from biogenic feedstock has lower CO2 emission which, coupled with CSS carbon capture technology, means the Micro-Hub is carbon neutral. This can make tea production greener and help with the decarbonisation of the tea industry.

– Economic benefits/cost savings, i.e. the payback for a Micro-Hub can be as low as 2.7 years.

– Scalability and the ability to tailor to the user’s energy requirements, e.g. as and when demand grows, more modular plants (Micro-Hubs) can be added.

– Transportation and fertiliser production opportunities resulting from the green hydrogen from syngas production (syngas is a mix of hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide and monoxide).

– Increased tea yields (up to 23 per cent), increased fertiliser use efficiency, and better drought resilience.

Job Creation Too 

The 500kWh plant Micro-Hubs that produce the green energy will also reportedly create jobs for up to 10 skilled technical and operational workers. This could add up to 300 new jobs in Kenya within the first five years.

Plans To Expand 

Plans are already in place (pending proven success in Kenya) to expand the green energy Micro-Hubs to Malawi, Uganda, South Africa and, perhaps, across the world.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

For tea producers in Kenya, a major challenge is the unreliable power grid. Also, the industry needs to decarbonise. Having a mini, modular, 24/7 power/energy generator on hand that runs on tea plant cuttings (and other biomaterials) can, therefore, meet these challenges and provide many other benefits.

For example, essentially free green energy that meets tea factory demand will help to decarbonise the tea industry and improve efficiency and productivity. The mini power hubs may also provide the added benefit of new job creation in an exciting new field. This story is an example of how technology can be used in a way that benefits an industry, a country, and the world in terms of carbon emission reduction, economic advancement, and the scalability of this system and its benefits.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Dirt-Powered ‘Forever’ Fuel Cell

Researchers at Northwestern University in the US have created a fuel cell that harvests energy from microbes living in soil so that it can potentially last forever (or as long as there are soil microbes).

Why? 

As Bill Yen (who led the research) suggests, the value may lie in its ability to supply power to IoT devices and other devices in wild areas where solar panels may not work well and where having to replace batteries may be challenging.

For example, talking about the IoT (on the Northwestern University website) Mr Yen says of the growing number of devices: “If we imagine a future with trillions of these devices, we cannot build every one of them out of lithium, heavy metals and toxins that are dangerous to the environment. We need to find alternatives that can provide low amounts of energy to power a decentralised network of devices.” 

Mr Yen also highlights how, putting a sensor out in the wild (e.g. in a farm or in a wetland), can mean being “constrained to putting a battery in it or harvesting solar energy” and points out that “Solar panels don’t work well in dirty environments because they get covered with dirt, do not work when the sun isn’t out and take up a lot of space.” 

Makes Sense To Use Energy From The Existing Environment

In tests, the revolutionary new fuel cell was used to power sensors measuring soil moisture and detecting touch, a capability that the researchers say could be valuable for situations like tracking passing animals.

To tackle the issues of the limitations of relying on normal batteries or solar panels in unsuitable areas, the researchers concluded that harvesting energy from the existing environment (e.g. energy from the soil that farmers are monitoring anyway) is a practical and sensible option.

How Does The Cell Work? 

After two years of research and 4 different versions, the fuel cell is essentially an updated and improved version of a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC), an idea that’s been around since 1911! In essence, an MFC generates electricity using bacteria in the soil in the following way:

– Bacteria in the soil break down organic matter, releasing electrons in the process.

– These electrons travel through a wire from the anode (where bacteria are) to the cathode (another chamber), generating electricity.

– In the cathode, a reaction uses these electrons (plus oxygen and protons) to form water, keeping electrons flowing as long as there’s “food” for bacteria.

The Combination of Ubiquitous Microbes and A Simply Engineered System

Northwestern’s George Wells, a senior author on the study, says the key drivers of the success of the fuel cell design are the fact that it uses microbes that are “ubiquitous; they already live in soil everywhere” and that it has a “very simple engineered systems to capture their electricity”. 

Special Features 

The features that make the MFC made by the researchers at Northwestern University so successful are:

– Its geometry. Rather than using a traditional design where the anode and cathode are parallel to one another, this version leverages a perpendicular design.

– The conductor that captures the microbes’ electrons is made of inexpensive and abundant carbon felt, and the anode (made of an inert, conductive metal) is horizontal to the ground’s surface, with the cathode sitting vertically atop the anode.

– Although the entire device is buried, the vertical design ensures that the top end is flush with the ground’s surface.

– A 3D-printed top prevents debris from falling inside.

– A hole on top and an empty air chamber running alongside the cathode allow consistent airflow.

– With the lower end of the cathode being deep beneath the surface, this ensures that it stays hydrated from the moist, surrounding soil (even if the surface soil is dried out in the sunlight).

– Part of the cathode is coated with waterproofing material to allow it to breathe during a flood and, after a potential flood, the vertical design helps the cathode to dry out gradually rather than all at once.

More Power 

The Northwestern researchers claim that the power produced by their fuel cell can outlast similar technologies by 120 per cent.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

This is an example not just of how an old technology has been re-vamped and supercharged, but also how a relatively simple solution fuelled by nature can be the answer to modern world challenges.

This simple, cheap device, that uses a potentially endless supply of free, natural energy as its power source could be of huge value in areas like precision agriculture to feed the world. For example, farmers wanting to improve crop yields can now have a long-lasting, no-maintenance, natural way to power the sensors/devices needed to measure things like levels of moisture, nutrients, and contaminants in soil. This cell will also free farmers from the task of having to travel around a 100+ acres farm cleaning solar panels or changing batteries. Another major advantage of the product’s design is the fact that some of it can be 3D printed and all the components could be purchased in a hardware shop.

All this means it has a wide potential geographic reach. The fact that there’s already a plan to make the next version from fully biodegradable materials, avoiding using any conflict minerals in its manufacture is also a big environmental plus. In short, this simple, cheap, and highly effective cell could offer opportunities and fuel results that are dramatically greater than the sum of its parts.

Sustainability-in-Tech : The Battery ‘Domino’ Effect That Could Help Us Hit Climate Goals

A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute highlights how a domino effect of surging battery demand could put global climate goals within reach by enabling a 22 Gigatons per year reduction in CO2 emission.

The Surge in Battery Demand – A Domino Effect

The report suggests that the world is witnessing a shift in energy dynamics due to the exponential growth in battery demand, due to a phenomenon driven by what it describes as a “domino effect” that will cascade from country to country and sector to sector.

The report highlights how this unprecedented battery demand isn’t just a trend and could be a critical enabler in significantly contributing to the abatement of transport and power emissions and (hopefully) the phaseout of half of the global fossil fuel demand. The assertion is that this domino effect of battery demand could be the thing that sets the world on a clear trajectory towards achieving over 60 per cent of the necessary milestones for a zero-carbon energy system.

The S-Curve of Battery Growth

The Rocky Mountain Institute report highlights how, central to understanding this shift, is the S-curve pattern of battery demand. Imagining an ‘S’ (on its side a as a graph illustrating the growth of battery demand), the curve begins slowly, accelerates sharply, then levels off. The report explains that this is because:

– Battery sales have been doubling every two to three years and by 2030, sales are expected to increase by six to eight times, potentially reaching 5.5-8 TWh (terawatt-hours) per year.

– The costs of making each battery will decrease as production increases – for every doubling of production, costs are projected to fall by 19 to 29 per cent.

– As well as cost reduction, battery quality will improve. For example, battery energy density (power stored for their size) is expected to increase by 7 to 18 per cent each time production doubles. By 2030, therefore, top batteries may store as much as 600-800 Wh/kg (watt-hours per kilogram).

– The report highlights that the above effects could mean that by 2030, battery cell costs may have fallen to $32-54 per kWh, making them much more affordable and efficient.

The “Domino Effect” (Across Sectors and Geographies) 

The domino effect of battery demand and usage that the report talks about refers to how once new battery technology is successful, it jumps sectors as well as geographies. For example, initially rooted in consumer electronics, battery technology then expanded into motorbikes, buses, and cars. Its current trajectory is towards stationary electricity storage, road haulage, and eventually, short-haul ships and planes by 2030. Geographically, the effect mirrors this sectoral spread. For example, after gaining momentum in early adopter nations, battery technology is now being rapidly adopted in major markets like China, Europe, the United States, Southeast Asia, and India.

The Largest Clean Tech Market Emerges 

This explosive growth in battery demand has catalysed the most significant capacity ramp-up since World War II. The race to the top has led to the construction of 400 ‘gigafactories’, capable of producing 9 TWh of batteries annually by 2030!

This development has propelled the battery market to become the largest clean tech market, surpassing combined investments in solar and wind power.

Impact on Fossil Fuel Demand and Climate Goals 

If the figures highlighted in the report come to fruition, the implications for fossil fuel demand are, of course, likely to be profound. It could mean, for example, that batteries are poised to replace significant portions of fossil fuel demand in electricity (175 EJ) and road transport (86 EJ), while also challenging the remaining demand in shipping and aviation (23 EJ). If this shift occurs at this scale, it could be pivotal in reducing global emissions by 22 Gigatons of CO2 per year, thereby representing a significant leap towards meeting global energy-related emissions targets.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead 

Despite the promise highlighted in the report, challenges remain. Stressed supply chains and the need for sustainable raw material sourcing are likely to be critical concerns. Also, building the infrastructure for a battery-dominated energy system looks like it’s a monumental task that will require consistent innovation and investment. That said, the ongoing efforts of companies, governments, researchers, and climate advocates, plus the fact that serious progress has to be made in reducing global CO2 emissions (to keep below 1.5°C of warming) are likely to mean that these challenges could be overcome.

It’s Not All Positive 

Some of the other major challenges caused by a huge surge in demand for (and production) that the report doesn’t talk much about include :

– The environmental damage from mining. Extracting raw materials like lithium and cobalt can cause habitat destruction, water pollution, and soil erosion.

– Supply chain risks. For example, although the report sees a domino effect of battery adoption across many countries, there is still likely to be a reliance on a few countries for critical materials which raises geopolitical and supply chain concerns, particularly with materials sourced under conditions of environmental or social harm.

– The considerable carbon footprint of battery manufacturing. Battery production is energy-intensive and, if powered by fossil fuels, contributes to carbon emissions.

– Massive recycling and waste management issues. Disposing of (and recycling) rapidly increasing numbers of batteries could pose environmental and health risks due to toxic materials. Current recycling rates are low, and processes can be costly.

– The scarcity of resources. Increased demand for materials like lithium and cobalt could lead to scarcity and higher prices.

– The social and economic impacts of shifts in job markets, particularly in regions dependent on fossil fuel industries, will require new skills and training.

– Transportation hazards from moving large quantities of batteries, e.g. fire and chemical spill hazards.

– Market oversaturation risks. Overproduction could lead to economic challenges in the battery industry.

Mitigation efforts will, therefore, need to include sustainable mining, improved recycling, responsible supply chain management, and development of less environmentally impactful battery technologies – something which is still very much in the research stage.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The battery revolution outlined in the report could have significant and broad implications for all kinds of businesses and other organisations. This shift presents a unique opportunity for businesses to be at the forefront of a sustainable future. Adopting battery technology could lead to a significant reduction in carbon footprints, offering a pathway to meet environmental goals and adhere to increasingly stringent regulations. Beyond compliance, it may also open avenues for innovation in product development, energy management, and operational efficiency.

This rapidly evolving energy landscape, however, will require organisations to reassess their supply chain strategies and the surge in battery demand implies a need for more robust and sustainable supply networks. Businesses will, therefore, need to ensure a stable supply of materials, potentially reconfiguring sourcing and manufacturing processes to accommodate the growing battery market. This could involve forming new partnerships and investing in technologies that align with the shift towards renewable energy sources.

Also, companies may need to invest in (or partner with) entities for charging infrastructure and energy storage solutions. This investment may not be just a cost but an opportunity to be part of an emerging market that is set to outpace traditional energy sectors.

For organisations in the energy sector, we appear to be at a pivotal moment to move towards clean technologies. The battery market, now overshadowing solar and wind investments, presents new opportunities for growth and innovation. Energy companies could leverage their expertise and resources to lead in battery technology and storage solutions, carving out a significant role in the new energy ecosystem.

This transition to batteries will also bring challenges for workforce skills and knowledge. Organisations will need to invest in training and development to equip their workforce with the necessary skills to navigate the changing technological landscape. This will include an understanding of battery technologies, renewable energy systems, and the accompanying intricacies of new regulatory and market environments.

The change, of course, isn’t likely to be confined to the energy sector alone. Industries like automotive (already with EVs), transportation, and manufacturing are directly impacted and will need to adapt their business models. This might involve transitioning fleets to electric vehicles, rethinking logistics based on battery storage capacities, or redesigning products to be more energy efficient.

Organisations will also have a role to play in shaping policy and public opinion. Collaborative efforts with governments, research institutions, and environmental groups could help in advocating for favourable policies, incentivising renewable energy adoption, and educating the public about the benefits of this transition.

The battery revolution suggested in this report isn’t just a shift in energy preference but a comprehensive change in how businesses will need to operate, innovate, and grow. Being part of a sustainable future will require proactive adaptation, strategic planning, and collaborative efforts. Organisations that embrace this change will not only contribute to a greener planet but also position themselves competitively in a world increasingly driven by clean technology.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Cargo Ship Sails Help Reduce Pollution

The recently launched Pyxis Ocean cargo ship uses giant foldaway ‘WindWings’ to help supplement engine power and could cut lifetime carbon emissions by 30 per cent.

The Cargo Ship 

A Mitsubishi Corporation cargo ship is currently demonstrating the WindWings, developed by BAR Technologies and Yara Marine Technologies, during its six week-long maiden voyage from China to Brazil. The ship, chartered by Cargill Ocean Transportation, left from Singapore on 25 August carrying 81,000 tonnes of cargo.

The WindWings 

The extraordinary features of the Pyxis Ocean cargo ship are its two rigid, foldaway 37.5-metre-tall steel and fibreglass ‘sails’ (WindWings) which automatically pivot to catch the wind. The WindWings, each made up of a centrally pivoted 10-metre-wide section with two five-metre-wide wings on either side can be folded down onto the cargo ship’s deck for arrival at ports and for passing through bridges or canals.

BAR Technologies estimates that the wind power harnessed by the WindWings, which can be retrofitted to many cargo ships (but not container ships), could deliver an average fuel saving of up to 30 per cent (on new build ships) and could save as much 1.5 tonnes of fuel per day on an average global route. Adding four wings on cargo could, therefore, save a massive 6 tonnes of fuel per day, stopping 20 tonnes of CO2 being produced.  BAR Technologies says the WindWings make the savings by combining “wind propulsion with route optimisation” and are initially aimed at being fitted to “bulk carriers and tankers.” 

Targets 

With more than 90 per cent of world trade being carried across oceans by 90,000 fossil-fuel powered marine vessels, the global freight shipping industry is a major producer of CO2 emissions, which contribute to climate change (and acidification). For example, it’s been estimated that the global shipping industry is responsible for more than 3 per cent of global CO2 emissions and, if it were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

For these reasons, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) set the goal for the shipping industry ultimately arriving at a 50 per cent reduction in GHG emissions from 2008 levels (CO2, sulphur oxide and other gasses) by 2050.

Adding WindWings to cargo ships could, therefore, be one relatively fast solution, in the absence of zero-carbon fuel for ships or a clear decarbonisation strategy, to at least begin reducing GHG emissions.

Innovation 

John Cooper, Chief Executive Officer, BAR Technologies said of the WindWings: “If international shipping is to achieve its ambition of reducing CO2 emissions, then innovation must come to the fore. Wind is a near marginal cost-free fuel and the opportunity for reducing emissions, alongside significant efficiency gains in vessel operating costs, is substantial.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

When the alarm bells really started ringing back in 2008 about how the global shipping industry was producing more CO2 than most countries, twice as much as the air transport industry, and more than 3 per cent of global emissions, the ambitious but necessary 50 per cent cut by 2050 target was set. However, with the world still reliant on cargo ships for 90 per cent of international trade, no zero-emissions fuel on the horizon, a perceived relative inactivity among freight operators in trying to meet the target, and no clear strategy, the WindWings idea looks like a realistic option to get started.

Although there’s ‘no one fits all’ (plus it may not work for container ships), they have been designed to be workable on the most common vessels sizes (using either 3 or 4 WindWings). The fact that they’re fully automated (touch of a button), can be folded away, have a lower power consumption and yet have the capacity to make major fuel and CO2 emission savings mean that, as long as they are affordable and reliable, they could provide a practical, and sustainable way forward for the freight shipping industry until other options are available. There’s also a kind of irony to the idea that the leading technology of today for greener shipping takes ships back full circle to the days of sails, with these just being more high-tech versions – of an old solution to a newer problem.

Sustainability-in-Tech : ‘Zero-Bills’ New-Build Properties

A new partnership between Octopus energy and sustainable housebuilder Verto aims to develop new homes across two south-west sites that will have no energy bills because all their energy and heating will come from with solar, battery and heat pumps.

Ground-Breaking ‘Zero Bills’ Proposition

Octopus says the 70 new homes built across two sites in Cornwall and Exeter are part of its “ground-breaking ‘Zero Bills’ proposition to all housing developers, enabling more new homeowners to make energy bills a thing of the past”.

How? 

The ‘Zero Bills’ homes will be made achievable by having them fully kitted out with green energy technology including solar panels, home batteries and heat pumps. At the back end, Octopus’ proprietary technology platform, Kraken, will connect to the clean energy devices and optimise their energy usage to deliver a zero bill.

Octopus says this system will mean the new homes will have no energy bills for at least five years, guaranteed.

600 Other Homes Now Accredited & 1200 Submitted For Assessment 

A previous successful ‘Zero Bills’ pilot with ilke Homes in Essex has meant that Octopus Energy has accredited almost 600 homes (affordable, shared-ownership, private, and rented) through contracts with other developers. Also, 80 more developers have started their accreditation process with Octopus and more than 1200 homes have been submitted for assessment.

Make Energy Bills And Home Emissions A Thing Of The Past 

Michael Cottrell, Zero Bills Homes Director at Octopus Energy, said of the new developments: “We’re on a mission to make ‘Zero Bills’ the new standard for homes. By partnering with developers like Verto, we’re scaling this efficient green technology to homes everywhere while driving down costs for consumers.”  Mr Cottrell also said that, “Together with forward-thinking developers, we can make energy bills and home emissions a thing of the past.” 

UK’s First Zero Bills Development 

Tom Carr, Co-Founder at Verto said of the ‘Zero Bills’ partnership: “We’re thrilled to be partnering with Octopus to launch the UK’s first fully Zero Bills developments. Verto has been delivering its Zero Carbon Smart Home™ product for over a decade: combined with Zero Bills, it represents a sea-change in sustainable housing. But this is just the beginning – we have several other exciting projects in the pipeline with Octopus, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of this movement.” 

Heat Pumps Questions 

Although the Octopus / Verto ‘Zero Bills’ proposition sounds very promising, many questions have been raised about heat pumps in the media recently, particularly for current homeowners thinking of replacing their gas boiler with one. Criticisms have included the prohibitive cost of air and ground source heat pumps, a suggestion that they may be slower at heating a home than a conventional boiler or electric heater, and that some homes and flats may not be compatible with them, i.e. they might not work when fitted. Other criticisms are that they may not cut bills by much and may not be particularly effective in well-insulated homes.

That said, the Octopus Verto ‘Zero Bills’ partnership homes are new builds with the entire system (solar panels, home batteries and heat pumps) already set up, integrated and designed-in using both the expertise of the energy company (Octopus) and the sustainable housebuilder (Vetro) so this should be an effective system.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Britain’s homes currently account for 13 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions and the government wants to phase out one of the main culprits, gas boilers, and have them replaced with heat pumps.

With high energy prices and a cost-of-living crisis, the solar industry has grown in the UK with more households fitting them to get the cash savings and green benefits. With this as the backdrop, the ability to build new homes with all the low carbon technology already fitted must help (in this case through a partnership) and the prospect of zero bills homes (a first) for at least five years will no doubt be appealing in itself to new build homebuyers, not to mention the feel-good green benefits. At least with the kit already fitted as part of tailored and tested system it should work well, thereby avoiding some of the pitfalls that trying to retrofit low carbon tech like heat pumps to older homes could uncover.

It’s promising (from a green perspective) that this ‘Zero Bills’ scheme is under way and that many other developers have started their accreditation process, and these schemes may also provide profitable opportunities to the developers and to suppliers of low-carbon tech for homes, thereby helping green industries in the UK to flourish. If all new developments were built with the low-carbon, sustainable tech already installed, it could certainly help cut carbon emissions and bode well for the future but the big challenge for the government is, of course, how to get existing housing into shape in terms of cutting emissions, e.g., replacing boilers with (quite expensive) heat pumps, solar panels, insulation and more.

Sustainability : ‘Try Before You Buy’ Wind Turbine At Glastonbury Festival

A huge pink and purple, temporary wind turbine that was erected to help provide Glastonbury Festival with green energy will also act as a ‘try before you buy’ promotion for similar turbines to be set up in other UK sites.

Turbine + Solar Panels Feeds Super Low-Carbon Energy Microgrid 

The 20-metre-high wind turbine with 8 metre blades provided by Octopus Energy was erected in a day in William’s Green field, near the famous Pyramid stage at the Glastonbury Festival, site and has provided the energy for thousands of green, clean snacks and meals for over 200,000 festival-goers. An extra bank of solar panels to complement the wind turbine, plus a battery to store the green energy produced, helped supply clean energy to the Festival’s own microgrid. This supplied power from super low-carbon energy to the stalls and equipment for food vendors in the field and is produced up to 300kWh of energy per day – enough to power 300 fridges.

Try Before You Buy 

With the festival now over, the fact that the huge turbine is temporary, was only ordered in April, and once shipped to the Glastonbury site it only took 2 weeks to build the parts, and just one day to erect it are to be used by Octopus Energy to offer other communities the chance to host the Glasto turbine and use it as a kind of ‘try before you buy’. For example, a community anywhere in the country could (if considerations and connections allow) have the famous turbine erected and could therefore see how it can create energy bill savings for people in the area e.g., 20 per cent discount on any electricity used when the local turbine starts turning, rising to 50 per cent when it really picks up. The fact that it’s the same turbine that at Glastonbury Festival and is decorated with the design of Octopus tentacles wrapped around its purple tower and pink blades could also make it a bit of a visual point of interest to.

How? 

Existing Octopus customers on and Octopus ‘Fan Club’ tariff members can request a turbine for their community. So far, as part of ‘Fan Club’ initiative, which brings together thousands of small generation projects into one ‘giant wind farm’, 20,000 people have requested a turbine. If their request is accepted and one is deployed, it could turn out to be the now famous Glastonbury turbine.

Traditional Turbines 

Generally, it takes several weeks to several months to complete the entire process from the start of site preparation to the commissioning a wind turbine that’s intended to be permanent. Getting the chance to host a temporary one that can be erected (and dismantled again) very quickly, therefore, is an idea that could help promote and speed up the adoption of green power around the UK. The benefits (combined with e.g., solar) could be not just cheaper bills but carbon reduction, reduced stress on the grid, the chance to meet environmental targets more quickly, less reliance on fossil fuels (coal and oil), reduced vulnerability to price hikes caused by overseas wars and markets, and a more sustainable energy system.

The UK Is Suited To More Wind Power 

The fact that the UK is an island nation with a long coastline, with strong and consistent wind resources, particularly in coastal areas provides ample opportunities for offshore wind farms. Offshore wind resources tend to be stronger and more consistent compared to onshore wind, making it an attractive option for harnessing wind energy. The prevailing westerly winds that blow across the Atlantic Ocean to the UK make the country ideal for capturing wind energy and the relatively high wind speeds contribute to the efficiency and productivity of wind turbines.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

This is essentially a ‘try before you buy’ promotion for wind power (and Octopus’s services) and the chance of hosting Glastonbury’s turbine sounds like an ingenious way of widening the clean energy network. Having a temporary structure that is quick to deploy and the fact that it is temporary sounds like a good way to counter objections to turbines in an area and win over local people e.g., see how one looks, sounds, and helps with savings. It may also be an effective way for helping Octopus underline and promote its green credentials and branding, and to expand its ‘Fan Club’ one-giant-wind-farm scheme. As an island nation with a long coastline and no shortage of wind it makes sense to utilise this abundant natural resource to move to a greener and more sustainable future for energy.