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Innovation All Around – Big, Bold Moves in Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Engineering

  • Written by Amy Opheim
  • May 9, 2024
Aerial view solar energy team working at solar power station. Two technicians install solar panel at solar roof top.

The only constant is change, and that’s true in the world of energy, too. The last few years have born some incredible innovations in energy efficiency and sustainability. Check out some of the exciting examples from changemakers across the country and around the world, below: 

Neighborhood Digs Deep for Sustainable Energy

A gas utility in Framingham, MA, is paying all setup costs for customers who voluntarily agree to be a part of a connected geothermal system. This system is designed to power an entire neighborhood, including apartments, free-standing homes, businesses, and even the local fire station. A looping pipe system located hundreds of feet below the neighborhood uses the warmer underground temperatures to heat liquid flowing through the pipes, powering heat pumps in the buildings during the winter. In the summer, excess heat is sent back underground to cool the buildings.  

Planes Powered by Air

Your next Alaska Airlines flight may be powered by air! A Washington-based company called Twelve is replacing dozens of fossil fuel products with alternatives made from carbon dioxide (CO2). Twelve’s E-Jet® SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) is produced using a process called power-to-liquid technology. This technology involves converting renewable electricity, typically from sources like solar or wind power, into liquid fuels. Twelve’s fuel has up to 90% lower lifecycle emissions than traditional jet fuel. 

The French Are Mixing Things Up

A renewable energy platform combining wind and solar energy is helping our French friends maximize energy production. Uneole is developing an innovative mixed energy solution —urban wind turbines covered by a photovoltaic rooftop designed to maximize energy production for commercial buildings and condo complexes. 

Solar Takes the Plunge 

Solar panels traditionally reside on flat buildings and residential rooftops, but, over the last few years, solar panels have hit the high seas (and lakes, ponds, and municipal water treatment plants, too). Large, flat, and shade-free, bodies of water offer the perfect environment for harnessing solar energy and enable solar production in rural and unpopulated areas without rooftops to build on. Energy providers in New Jersey and Michigan are anticipating savings of up to $2M in energy costs over the life of their floating solar arrays

Dust Busting Solar Panels 

Speaking of solar panels, dust and debris can reduce solar efficiency and require costly and inconvenient routine cleaning to ensure maximum output. But not anymore! A South Korean research team has designed a self-cleaning electrodynamic screen (EDS) using a wind-powered device to generate high-voltage electric fields that remove contaminates from panel surfaces. This self-contained, self-cleaning, energy invention restores panel efficiency by at least 90%. 

Revamping Legacy Radiators 

Space heating accounts for the largest building energy use in the United States and much of that heat still comes from radiators, which can be wasteful, difficult to control, and even harder to replace. A team at the Illinois Institute of Technology was recently awarded Peoples Gas’ Innovation Strategies and Technologies Award for their Battery-Operated Radiator Control (BORC) system, an inexpensive retrofit that allows manually operated radiator systems to connect to smart building sensing and controlling systems. 

Energy innovators are making bold strides toward increased energy output, efficiency, and sustainability. As we embrace these remarkable innovations and initiatives, it becomes evident that the future of energy is bright with possibilities. What can you do to expedite the transition to clean energy?