7 Innovative technologies for electricity generation and storage
The consumption of electricity has dramatically increased in the last few decades. As consumers, we’re gulping power at an alarming rate, from air conditioning systems, heating systems, household appliances, and all forms of home entertainment devices to cloud computing, computers, and consumer electronics. Lately, the introduction of electric-powered vehicles, though “green”, still need to be powered and this energy has to come from somewhere.
Storing power is an often overlooked but growing concern. What happens when demand spikes? Load shedding or load reduction is done countrywide as a controlled option to respond to unplanned events to protect the electricity power system from a total blackout. Eskom estimates that load shedding will continue for at least another 5 years, consumers will need to look at alternative technologies regarding the generation of electricity.
What are some of the new and emerging technologies for the generation and storage of power?
Scientists from the University of Massachusetts have created a device capable of generating electricity from the water vapour that is naturally present in the atmosphere.
The device, coined the “Air-gen,” traces its roots back more than three decades. There, scientists discovered an unusual microbe belonging to the Geobacter genus that, among other things, could produce magnetite (a good conductor of electricity) without oxygen.
While experimenting with the material, electrical engineer Jun Yao discovered – almost by accident – that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way, they generated a current. Though unlikely to be adequate for industrial applications, this can supplement electrical power supply on a small scale in the near future.
2. Micro grids and Artificial Intelligence
Micro-grids are local energy grids which can operate freely or by staying connected to a bigger conventional grid. These grids are not only energy savers, but also offer energy independence, efficiency, and protection during the time of contingencies.
Microgrids can serve a single building, multiple customers in a limited geographic area, or customers across an entire community when the main power supply grid is interrupted. They commonly range in size from 100 kilowatts (kW) to multiple megawatts (MW). The city of Cape Town is currently conducting studies on incorporating technologies such as micro grids to ward off the intermittent power supply problems.
Xendee, a San Diego company has come up with an advanced toolkit for microgrid designs. This toolkit incorporates the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to predict usage and usage spikes. These systems accurately predict power usage and optimise the distribution into specific neighbourhoods or buildings without affecting the rest of the homes and buildings connected to that grid.
3. Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) Systems
Compressed air energy storage (CAES) uses surplus energy to compress air which is then stored in an underground reservoir. The compression of the air generates heat. The air can be released to a combustor in a gas turbine to generate electricity. The aim of course, along with other forms of energy storage, and other approaches such as smart grids is to provide a means in which intermittent renewable energy can take over from fossil fuels.
The first such system was a 290 MW plant developed by E.ON-Kraftwerk at Huntorf, Germany, in 1978. The intention was to help manage grid loads by storing electricity as pressurized air during night-time when demand was low and releasing it again when demand increased. The plant is still operational, being used for backup power. The compressed air, as with a number of other such systems, is stored in underground salt caverns which take 8 hours to fill at a rate of 108 kilograms per second. When electricity is needed again, the compressed air is released and heating by burning natural gas.
The Tesla Energy Powerwall is a state of the art home battery designed to store your clean energy, so you can use it anytime you want—at night or during an outage. A Powerwall gives you the ability to store energy for later use and works with or without solar to provide key security and financial benefits.
Each Powerwall system includes at least one Powerwall and a Tesla Gateway, which provides energy monitoring, metering and management for the system. The Backup Gateway learns and adapts to your energy use over time, receives over-the-air updates just like the rest of Tesla’s products and is capable of managing up to ten Powerwall’s
When the sun rises, solar begins powering the home. When additional power is required within the home, the home can pull from the utility grid.
Powerwall is charged by solar during the day when solar panels are producing more electricity than the home is consuming. Powerwall then stores that energy until the home needs it, such as at night, or when the utility grid is offline during a power outage.
The next day when the sun comes out, solar recharges Powerwall so you have a cycle of clean, renewable energy.
If your electricity rates vary throughout the day, Powerwall will charge when electricity costs are low and discharge when electricity costs are high, generating automatic savings. Powerwall will also provide seamless backup power by detecting grid outages and automatically becoming the home’s main power source.
5. Vertical wind turbines
Roadside vertical wind turbines capture the waves created by passing vehicles, an energy that is currently going unused. These turbines obviously do not capture only the wind generated by fast-moving cars, but any wind there is. They can be installed along the motorway median (and are therefore easy and cheap to access).
For example, if these turbines were set up all along the Johannesburg to Bloemfontein highway at a moderate distance between them of say 10 metres, the cost of all the turbines for the project would be of around R1Billion. But this cost would be recovered in less than five years, with 325 MW generated for the power grid. It might not be enough to power the entire country from such an installation on the aforementioned highway but it is a substantial aid.
6. Betavoltaics – nothing wasted from nuclear waste
Nuclear material is constantly decaying and in the process emits radioactive particles. This is why extremely radioactive material is so dangerous and why properly storing nuclear waste is so important and expensive. But this waste can actually be put to good use. Betavoltaic devices use the waste particles produced by low-level radioactive materials to capture electrons and generate electricity.
The output from these devices can be fairly low and decreases over long periods of time, but because of the consistent output of nuclear decay, they can be extremely long-lasting. For example, one betavoltaic battery could provide one watt of power continuously for 30 years.
Ultra-capacitors, use an electrostatic field to quickly capture energy and then rapidly release it when needed. Conventional batteries and advanced lithium-ion batteries that rely on a chemical reaction cannot efficiently do this because they charge slowly and discharge slowly. When batteries are asked to charge and discharge quickly — which is the case in many applications today — they begin to fail and ultimately need to be replaced.
Ultra-capacitors are being incorporated (where batteries cannot) into renewable energy power generation from solar, wind, and waves to improve efficiency and reliability. The unique quick charge/discharge ability of ultra-capacitors allows renewable energy installations to quickly store power and then deliver it back to the power grid “firming” output capacity and “ride through” during short-term disruptions. This increases renewable energy utilization by 30 – 50 percent so the power grid doesn’t need to be built to such a large scale (at an incremental cost) as demand for electrical power grows.
Small ultra-capacitors can be combined with batteries in laptops, tablets, smartphones, and electronics to use electric power more efficiently. Because ultra-capacitors can quickly be charged and discharged up to a million times without loss of performance, they are ideal for providing the bursts of power required by today’s electronic devices, helping them perform better and batteries last longer.
While more innovations and solutions emerge daily it is a fact that we need to find better ways to harness and harvest electricity now and in the future. Most, if not all of these innovations rely heavily on technological products i.e Software, Apps, AI, Blockchain that SovTech develops for startups and enterprises alike.
Do contact us for a consultation on developing your digital solutions.
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