realms of our imagination. Renewable energy generation is no exception to that as engineers have not only had to adapt their technology to the different forms of renewable energy – from solar to win, and from geothermal to hydro – but they have also had to tailor solutions to the unique circumstances of different countries whether those are a result of geography or capacity to invest in renewables. Human ingenuity and our problem-solving skills have led to the creation of a great number of amazing renewable energy projects.
These are some really cool ideas that visionaries across the globe have put to the test. Let’s give them the shout-out that they deserve.
A flying wind turbine
Is it a plane? Is it a bird? Well, it kind of looks like a giant, winged doughnut. But in reality, it is an unmanned, helium-filled, cylindrical blimp wrapped around three spinning blades that turn wind into electricity. It’s 35 feet wide, and its inventors, a group of MIT graduates, call it the BAT¹.
The BAT, which stands for Buoyant Airborne Turbine, was created to help bring electricity to an estimated 1 billion people in rural areas where power is unavailable. And it does so using renewables. Altaeros Energies, the company behind the BAT, is competing with Google and others in trying to bring the first viable airborne wind turbine to market.
The BAT takes wind turbine technology to new heights – quite literally. By flying about 1,000 feet above the ground the BAT can generate energy from stronger and more consistent winds, compared to traditional towers. Airborne wind turbines like the BAT can provide useful solutions particularly for remote areas as they are portable, computer controlled and they don’t require any expensive infrastructure to work.
Each BAT can power 12 homes but its inventors also say that the BAT has multiple additional benefits as it can be packed into two small shipping containers and can be set up easily in about a day. It is connected to the ground by strong tethers, which carry electricity to a portable ground station. It is also connected to a computer-controlled automated system that optimizes the BAT’s height, based on changing winds. If the weather changes for the worse, the BAT is designed to reel itself down to the ground. Its spinning blades don’t pose a significant threat to birds and bats, which is often a concern with offshore wind turbines and seabirds.
3D printer solar energy trees
Money doesn’t grow on trees. But maybe energy can. Inspired by natural processes, researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have advanced solar and 3D printing technologies and created prototypes of what they are calling “energy harvesting trees”. The tiny leaves of these artificial trees generate and store solar energy which can be used to power small appliances and mobile devices. The “solar trees” flourish indoors and outdoors, and they can also harvest kinetic energy from wind and temperature changes.
To achieve all that, the technology relies on the material used to make the tree’s leaves: flexible organic solar cells, printed using well established mass-production techniques. Each leaf has a separate power converter, creating a multi converter system that makes it possible to collect energy from a variety of sources like the sun, wind and heat temperature. The more solar panels or leafs there are in a tree, the more energy it can harvest. The trunks are made with 3D printing technology using wood-based biocomposites.
Solar power sphere
This invention comes German Architect Andre Broessel so it is no surprise that it also looks like a piece of modern art. Broessel was confident that there was a solution to using the sun’s rays more effectively even during the night hours and in low-light regions³.
Broessel’s company, Rawlemon, created a spherical sun power generator called the beta.ray. This prototype technology combines the principles of geometry that apply to spherical shares with a dual axis tracking system. This allows twice the yield of a conventional solar panel in a much smaller surface area. The futuristic design is fully rotational and is suitable for inclined surfaces, walls of buildings, and anywhere with access to the sky. The other innovation is that the beta.ray comes with a hybrid collector to convert both daily electricity and thermal energy at the same time.