Why shoud you care about being green if there’s nothing in it for you? The reason you should care about renewable energy is that it gives you lots of ways to start generating your own energy to power all those energy hungry gadgets you love. You won’t even notice that you’re doing it thanks to future technology. (Pics)
1. Kinetic Energy Generators All that time we spend walking around is just wasting energy, but the nPower PEG is a device that can get some of that back. It’s a more sophisticated version of a shake flashlight, where a magnet moving back and forth through a coil generates electricity. If you carry it with you, this happens as you walk. While one minute of walking gets you one minute of music on an iPod Nano, it takes 26 minutes of walking to get one minute worth of 3G talk time on an iPhone. This sounds like a lot, but remember, it’s just for power from a regular walk. Hiking or running will produce substantially more power, as will jumping on a trampoline, and there’s always the option of duct taping it to your dog and playing fetch for a while. The nPower PEG is currently on backorder for $160.
2. Wi-Fi Power Harvesters The ideal power-harvesting device is something that just sits in your pocket and spontaneously generates power without you ever having to do anything. AirPower is exactly this. It’s a Wi-Fi hotspot power harvester, which somehow manages to suck appreciable amounts of electricity out of thin air by absorbing signals from nearby wireless routers. It’s continually charging an internal battery, and it’s got a USB plug to charge your stuff. The RCA AirPower charger was first unveiled at CES 2010, and despite swearing up and down that it would be commercially available that summer, last we heard RCA has decided that they’re going to try to integrate the tech directly into mobile devices instead. In other words, keep those fingers crossed.
3. Piezoelectric Motion Harvester If you’ve been thinking that a micro generator would be great for your cellphone, you’re not the only one. Nokia has patented a pizeoelectric kinetic motion harvester that’s designed to provide little sips of additional power to portable electronics. In something like a cellphone, the battery would be mounted on a set of little rails, enabling it to move up and down as you walk, generating electricity. And in an emergency, you could just give the phone a shake for some extra juice.
4. Solar Thermal Generator Why rely on just one way of generating power when you can take advantage of two at the same time? Fujitsu has created a thin and flexible device that works as both a solar panel and a thermoelectric generator all at once. This means that you can generate twice as much power, or you can generate a sufficient amount of power if it’s either totally dark or totally cold, or you can generate power even if it’s kinda dark and kinda cold at the same time. Pretty versatile, for sure, and in other good news, it’s cheap and easy to manufacture. Look for it in commercial applications around 2015.
5. Flexible Nanogenerator Nobody wants to carry around personal energy generators that are bulky and annoying. Ideal systems will be integrated so tightly and invisibly into our lives that we’ll never even notice that we’re walking power plants. One way to do this is to just make everything super duper tiny, like down to nano sizes. You won’t get much power out of generators so small, but that doesn’t matter if you just use a whole heap of ‘em. Georgia Tech researchers have figured out how to embed tiny piezoelectric nanowires on flexible polymer sheets, and when the sheets are squeezed, the wires pump out electricity. By embedding them into the fabric of something like a jacket, the nanowires will squirt out electricity every time you move around.
6. Transparent Solar Panel Solar panels are great, but anything that has a solar panel on it generally can’t be used for much else. On the other hand, if solar panels could be somehow made transparent, you could stick them everywhere, and they’d start generating power for you without anyone noticing. Well, welcome to somehow, ‘cause a French company called Wysips has developed an entirely invisible solar panel film. At only 100 microns thick, you can integrate it into a cellphone display, where it can harvest enough power from sunlight in an hour to give you a solid 30 minutes of talk time. Look for it to hit the market within a year.
7. Solar Fabric The military is pretty hot on all this personal energy generation stuff, because currently soldiers have to lug around a crazy amount of batteries to power all of their gadgetry, and that gets tiring. The Engineering and Physical Research Sciences Center in the UK is working on military uniforms that also function as power generators, harvesting solar energy directly through a new type of fabric. A thermoelectric component can also generate electricity when it’s dark or hazy, as long as it’s warm, and as a fringe benefit, this capability also serves to reduce a soldier’s infrared signature. A prototype system should be ready to go by December, and sooner or later, it’s bound to go commercial.
8. Personal Solar Panel For the immediate future, solar panels are some of the cheapest and most reliable ways to harvest electricity, especially if you live somewhere that’s nice and sunny most of the time. There are lots of different personal solar panel systems out there, but Solio is one of the most clever. It’s actually three solar panels that open up like a flower, and you can stick a pencil through the center hole to keep it propped up at the optimal sun angle. There’s an integrated battery to help store up the solar energy for later when it (inevitably) gets dark, and the whole kit will only set you back about $70.
9. Micro Wind Turbine Wind energy has been big lately, especially as wind turbines get more and more gigantic. You personally don’t need capacity like that on a day to day basis, though, and your own little micro turbine may be able to handily satisfy some of your power needs. The HYmini personal wind turbine is designed to be mounted on a bike, or on your arm when you go jogging, where the spinning blades generate electricity to charge an internal battery. For a mere $50 each, you could buy a whole herd of them, and stick them all over your electric car. As long as you drive fast enough and park next to a hurricane, you’ll never need to depend on the grid again.