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Smart alternative energy sources

The whole world is looking for alternative energy sources since traditional sources are getting exhausted, are polluting the world, or for other reasons. The world is already using renewable energy sources like solar panels,  wind turbines and biofuels.  These are becoming more and more popular and so widely used that they can’t be called alternative sources anymore. And what we want to talk about now are some truly alternative fuels that are being developed. The following technologies show some promises for the future as renewable energy sources but it must be said that most of them aren’t ready yet for commercial use.

How efficient would it be if human energy can be used to power personal devices. That’s where a lot of research is going to for the moment. There already are some inventions that allow you to create energy just by wearing something. For example a knee brace that can convert the kinetic energy of the moving leg into useable electricity. Or a backpack that can create energy from the motion of walking. And a very good example of a smart, new technology is the newly built Westfield Stratford City Mall that’s built for the London Olympics. The paving stones of this mall absorb kinetic energy from peoples footsteps and can create energy out of this.

Some other energy sources that are being developed are small generators that can create electricity from viruses or a t-shirt battery which will be able to store enough energy to power small electronic devices. But all these technologies are still in the early stages of development. So it will probably take years before they can be used in a large scale. However, there are some alternative electricity generating systems that are already, or almost in production.

An example is hydrogen, which has been considered a potential energy source from sometime now. Another great example is a robotic jellyfish, created by scientists at Virginia Tec. This robotic jellyfish can take hydrogen from the water to create the power it needs. So this effectively gives it an unlimited power source. Researchers at Harvard also recently created a hydrogen fuel cell which can create energy from hydrogen and store it like a battery. The prototype can now store about three and a half minutes worth of power but the researchers have the next couple of years to think about ways to increase this.

Only in Japan, vehicle-to-grid integration

A few weeks ago, lots of Americans were left without power for days after a violent storm moved from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic. In Japan, this blackout wouldn’t have happened since they created a new technology that allows you to power your home by using your car.

This technology is an all electric Leaf that can integrate into your home’s energy supply. So simply put, your car can power your home and your home can power your car. This sound very futuristic and it must be said that this can’t be bought anywhere else but in Ginza, a shopping district in the heart of Tokyo. Customers looking to buy a car can buy this Leaf with Nissan dealers.

Ken Screbnik, Vice President for strategic planning and business development for Nissan, said that depending on the size of your home, the power from your car can be used to power your home for about two days. So things can keep running when there’s a power disruption.

In terms of energy management, this Leaf to Home system is a game changer and it’s also an industry first. All customers need to do is buy this Leaf and they become their own energy supplier. They even can get paid to store energy.

An EV power station unit, similar in size to an external air conditioning unit, allows the power to move through the house and be stored in the Leaf’s battery so it can be sent in to the home. It charges your car in four hours and sells for about £2.440. When users generate their own electricity from wind or solar stations, they can store the excess power in the car’s battery. So it reduces the owner’s bills.

After last year’s tsunami and earthquake-triggered nuclear disaster, Japan started to create a vision for smarter energy systems, and this vehicle-to-grid system is part of this vision. After the devastation last year, there was no way to get gas to gas stations and the view on electric vehicles totally changed. They were still able to work and they realized how comfortable the backup energy storage system is. Screbnik said that they were able to work with the government to provide subsides and shape a business out of these tragic events.

Since the disasters, the Japanese Government want to make sure that there is a stable power supply at any time. That’s a reason why they are so interested in the Smart City concept, promising cleaner energy integration, the ability for cities to maintain their own energy supply and so on. About 50 Smart City projects are already proposed in Japan.

Kashiwa-no-ha, one of the Smart cities just outside of Tokyo, began construction smart grids before the disasters last year and they should be finished in 2014. The 26.000 people that will be living in the city by then will have access to smart grid features like the ability to monitor and control their own energy supply with mobile application. Ai Kanda, Communications Officer for Kashiwa-no-ha said that they are offering one of the most innovative smart grid projects in the world. Citizens will be able to conserve 40 percent of energy.

America is also up to date when it comes to Smart Cities, they rank amongst the top investors of smart grid investments worldwide. The Departments of Energy (DOE) already invested about 3.4 billion dollars in about 100 smart grid projects throughout the nation. Some leading cities are San Diego, Boulder, Colo and Westerville Ohio.

But they are lagging behind when it comes to vehicle-to-grid integration. Jim Northrup, Vice President for power and energy at SAIC, said that the U.S. will start with more fleet-sized vehicles and predicts that within the next five years, America will see commercial vehicle-to-grid integration. But it will take about 10 years for residential vehicle-to-grid integration.

SAIC and the Department of Defense are working together to launch one of the first vehicle-to-grid pilot projects in the US at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The project is called the Aloha Microgrid Project and it’s part of the Defense Department’s larger efforts to move to electric cars.