For obliterating the major barrier to wider adoption of electric vehicles. Sure, Tesla has carved out an undisputed lead in the electric-car industry with its revolutionary Model S, but the unveiling of the company’s charging stations was equally noteworthy and less heralded. Billed as "the fastest charging station on the planet"—because it is—the Tesla Supercharger can fuel up a Model S in as little as 40 minutes, removing the so-called range anxiety that has been the biggest bugaboo of EV doubters. But in January, Tesla took another leap: It expanded its rapid-charging station route to more than 70 locations, letting Model S owners drive coast-to-coast for the first time. Read more >>
For harnessing the Industrial Internet to build the world’s first intelligent turbine. The huge multinational corporation continues its work in a variety of energy domains, but one of its new wind turbines, known as the "2.5-120," is of special significance. A new design harnesses the Industrial Internet—GE’s network of sensors and analytics that can significantly optimize machines—and can generate large amounts of power in low winds, a gargantuan leap forward. The turbine also incorporates battery storage systems to account for wind power’s intermittency, resulting in efficiency gains of about 25%. This is, one could argue, the world’s first "truly intelligent" wind turbine. Read more >>
For wooing vehicle-fleet owners to adopt its emissions-reducing tech. XL Hybrids, a Boston-based startup spun out from one of MIT’s petri dishes, retrofits fuel-thirsty vans and trucks with a more-efficient hybrid diesel-electric technology. It’s a novel and hugely important strategy in reducing emissions. It’s also a steadily growing business, as fleet owners that may be unswayed by environmental arguments opt for the XL retrofits to save on fuel costs. The company is currently working with FedEx and a host of local companies. Read more >>
For upending lighting with its smart LED bulbs. Philips’s LEDs, similar in many respects to silicon chips, use about one-sixth the electricity of a conventional bulb, saving not only on electricity but vastly reducing carbon emissions in the process. Its Hue system for controlling its LED lights through iPhones and remote applications debuted with great fanfare. But the LED bulbs themselves—which will help bring in nearly $2 billion in sales for the company by next year—remain the benchmark for efficiency, quality, and design.Read more >>
Unrestrained by politics, the U.S. Marine Corps is a quiet player on the front lines of clean-energy innovation. Over the past few years, the Expeditionary Energy Office, or E2O, has tested radical battlefield energy systems with the aim of curtailing dependence on fossil fuels during missions. The result: dozens of hybrid innovations that have shown the potential to cut diesel use in half on the battlefield, and—hopefully—as a bonus, sustain longer missions and reduce soldiers' vulnerabilities. Here are three of the most useful:
- A) MAPS (Marine austere patrolling system) With these souped-up backpacks, which contain a flexible solar panel, Marines can now power their gear, and filter water, without multiple batteries, reducing the average infantryman’s pack weight by nearly 50 pounds.
- B) SPACES (Solar portable alternative communications) On a weeklong extended patrol, Marines would rather carry ammunition than heavy power systems. For satellite and Internet communications on the go, they unroll SPACES, a mat made of photovoltaics that harnesses solar power.
- C) Hybrid power for MTVRs Medium tactical vehicle replacements are among the most-used combat trucks, but they’re also dieselguzzling monsters that spend up to 70% of their time idling in order to power electronics. This year, E2O will roll out small, two- to threecylinder generators that allow frontline MTVRs to shut off engines without pulling the plug on computers.
For redesigning the notion of the solar home with dead-simple shingle arrays. Speeding up the adoption of solar power is not just a challenge of bringing down costs by increasing efficiencies; it’s also a matter of design. How do we integrate energy production into our homes with ease, and with tolerable aesthetics? Dow’s Powerhouse Solar Shingles, which can slash energy bills by up to 60%, are a crucial step in solving this problem: Rather than install bulky photovoltaic superstructures, customers have an electrician attach the Solar Shingles to their roof in the place of conventional shingles. Demand is clearly increasing among consumers—Dow has continued rolling out the award-winning systems across U.S. markets, most recently in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
For discovering a more-efficient way to remove salt from water. As pure water becomes more and more scarce in a warming world, desalination technology has become increasingly important. But water desalination is extremely energy intensive, with desal plants often using an electricity-sucking reverse-osmosis process that forces salty water at very high pressure through fine mesh filters. Okeanos employs a radical new technology, using a kind of electronic chip that taps microscopic electrical fields to take the salt out of the water. Though a fairly early-stage company, Okeanos has made a huge splash in the scientific community and promises to offer radical new methods for desalination.
For applying the pay-as-you-go model to scale up solar in developing countries. The U.K.-based startup Azuri offers a pay-as-you-go deal that uses cell-phone financing as its model and thus circumvents the high up-front costs of solar installation. Customers in developing countries in Africa pay $10 for solar panel installation on their roofs (or nearby) and then pay about $1.50 a week for service. This provides enough electricity to light their homes and charge their phones, and after 18 months, they’ve paid off the cost of the solar panel. Thanks to an investment from Barclays, Azuri is scaling up quickly and hopes to deploy its offering to a quarter-million homes by the end of this year.
For tinkering with plant genomes to make feedstocks more easily convertible to biofuels. One of the perennial challenges facing the biofuels industry is how to transform feedstocks (i.e., plants and organic matter) into fuel in a simple and cost-effective manner. You can change the fermentation processes or try to improve it with better catalysts. But what if you change the plant genome itself? That’s been Ceres’s recent strategy: They are trying to reduce the lignin in plant material so that its feedstocks are more easily—and more cheaply—converted to biofuels. It’s a new and innovative strategy that promises to be transformative.
For applying the crowdfunding model to solar energy installations. Mosaic is an online solar marketplace that connects investors—anyone who wants to invest at least $25—with solar projects. Since launching in 2012, Mosaic has crowdfunded more than $5.6 million in investments for all sorts of worthy solar projects (on top of university housing, convention centers, affordable housing complexes, etc.). It’s a win-win: Investors make money from loan interest, while residents and municipalities get to reduce their energy bills.
[Image: Flickr user Ronald Sarayudej]