Energy innovations


Millions of poor, rural households worldwide still use polluting and health-damaging fuels like kerosene. The health and environment of the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ – the 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2.5 a day – would benefit hugely from access to clean, renewable energy alternatives like solar PV panels. Indian social enterprise SELCO is one organisation providing finance for this – and proving that it could be a viable investment. Since 1995, SELCO has financed, sold and serviced 115,000 solar systems in partnership with Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank, a rural Indian bank.

Benefits: energy generation, carbon reduction
Innovators: SELCO, Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank

Paving slabs that generate energy from peoples footsteps


It’s estimated that on busy streets, an individual paving slab may be stepped on about 50,000 times a day. A new form of micro-generation, being tested in the UK, is harnessing the kinetic energy that such a volume of footfalls provides. The energy can then be used to power pedestrian crossing lights, information displays, bus stop displays and much more. Pavegen has a global patent for the technology and the paving slabs can be used anywhere – particularly shopping centres, train stations to busy streets such as Oxford Street.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Pavegen


Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) have helped businesses and industry to generate energy and improve efficiency for decades, but are rare in the residential market. ESCOs pay to install renewable energy generators such as solar panels, so there is no upfront cost for householders. The revenues from the electricity generated are then shared between the energy service company and the household.

Housing accounts for around 30% of CO2 emissions in the UK. This initiative can help address this by enabling homes to generate renewable electricity as well as bring significant saving on energy bills.

Other similar models that avoid the upfront cost of solar for households include rooftop auctions (GridBid), and revolving loan funds (Solar Mosaic). Here, a pool of money from investors or government bodies provides initial capital, which the borrower repays from the eventual savings. Once the loan is repaid, the fund invests in another similar project.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: SolarCity, SunRun, Sungivity, GridBid, Solar Mosaic


The Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) is ten meters in diameter and floats thanks to helium. The idea is that winds are stronger the higher one travels and this model was sent up to 100 meters high and generates nearly two times more power from up there. This invention is an innovative way to use open space for energy. The Airborne Wind Turbines will be able to travel across skies, not having to take up land area that could be useful for other purposes.

Benefits:  energy generation, carbon reduction
Innovators:  Clean Future

Dye-sensitised solar cells can be applied to replace existing glass windows to  light-weight materials such as back packs and tents to generate power.


New ‘dye-sensitised solar cells’ have the potential to replace existing glass windows, facades and roofing, generating energy without obstructive equipment. Inspired by photosynthesis, they have the potential to provide affordable solar power generation while dramatically increasing the surface area we can use for solar energy technology. Tata Steel are working with Dyesol to develop, manufacture and market metal roof and wall cladding products with dye-sensitised solar cells integrated into the steel surface. The Dyesol and Tata collaboration aims to supply one third of the UK’s renewable energy needs by 2020.

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Benefits: energy generation, carbon reduction
Innovators: Dyesol, Imperial College London, US Biomimicry Institute

Ouse Valley Energy Services Company


Community-owned renewable energy plants, such as solar panel arrays and wind turbines, generate renewable energy for local businesses and people. In several countries government feed-in-tariffs mean they also provide income to local investors. Community social enterprise Ouse Valley Energy Services Company, set up by Transition Town Lewes in the UK, is reaping the benefits of a community renewable energy plant. It has partnered with solar installation firm Southern Solar and local brewery Harveys to create a 98kW solar PV panel array. Harveys will use some of the electricity generated in exchange for the lease of its roof space. The remainder will feed back into the national grid, generating income for the local community.

Benefits: energy generation, carbon reduction
Innovators: Ouse Valley Energy Services Company, Southern Solar, Harveys


The Scottish Government is the first in the world to set a target to meet 100% of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020. The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Act, which came into force in June 2011, also sets a target to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050, which includes emissions from international aviation and shipping. The main driver behind renewable electricity development is the Renewable Obligation (Scotland), or ROS. This mechanism places an obligation on electricity suppliers to provide an increasing amount of their electricity supplied from eligible renewable sources and also provides financial rewards for emerging technologies.


Utility providers will traditionally make more money the more energy people use, which potentially compromises efforts to reduce consumption. Changing the way markets operate, so that profits are linked to reduced demand, gives utilities companies an incentive to promote energy saving.

California has adopted this policy model. The key innovation has been to decouple energy sales from profit by fixing revenues. Firms profit from supporting energy-saving initiatives such as customer energy-efficiency schemes. As a result, energy demand has flattened in California, while energy consumption in other states has doubled.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in California also stipulates the most stringent target of the United States of 33% renewables by 2020.

Benefits: energy efficiency
Innovators: State of California


The UN predicts that 2.7 billion people worldwide are likely to experience severe water shortages by 2025. Water purification technology firm Dutch Rainmaker has designed a system, powered by renewable energy, to collect water in arid areas. A single wind turbine forces air through a heat exchanger, cooling it. The water is then condenses and is collected. If this technology works at scale it could provide additional fresh water at low cost, relative to existing energy-intensive technology like desalinisation plants.

Benefit: energy generation
Innovator: Dutch Rainmaker

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Imagine your home powered by the waves from Norway - supergrids is a concept that enables energy to be shared across Europe.


Imagine your home powered by the sun from Spain or the wind from Scotland.

That’s what could happen with a European supergrid– a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power grid connecting Europe and the regions around its borders.

Renewable energy supplies can vary at a local level – sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. But sharing energy across national and regional boundaries makes it easier to balance supplies and cope with peaks of demand or sudden shortages.

Development of renewables at scale also requires the deployment of smart grids, which can also accommodate a much larger proportion of electricity from renewable sources, enabling homes and businesses to become renewable energy providers.

We also need a mix of policy reform, alliance building, new technologies as well as societal innovation - to think differently about the way we live, the way we design our energy markets and our businesses.

Benefits: carbon reduction, energy generation
Innovators: Renewable Grid Initiative, set up by WWF and now involving many of Europe’s grid operators, including the UK National Grid, and other partners.

High altitude wind power


Winds are usually more reliable and powerful at high altitude than at ground level. Hovering turbines, or kites, have the potential to harness these high altitude winds to generate electricity. They can fly at altitudes of 300m to 1,000m, dwarfing current wind turbines which average around 100m in height. Fluctuating jet streams mean high altitude winds can be intermittent, so these turbines will need to be supported by battery technology to ensure reliability.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Magenn Power, Makani Power,

See it in action

The foam soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and generates sugars that can be converted into biofuel


The foam nest created by a tungara frog appears to be nature’s most efficient way of harnessing the sun’s energy. Inspired by this discovery, engineers have mimicked the way the foam functions. They’ve created ‘artificial photosynthetic foam‘, injected with frog enzymes. Using the power of the sun, the foam captures and converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen and sugar.

This process captures more CO2 than natural photosynthesis, and it doesn’t rely on natural resources such as soil and water. It’s currently being tested for large-scale applications in urban areas and pollution from manufacturing plants. The sugar it produces can be used to make biofuel.

Benefits: carbon reduction; energy generation; biodiversity
Innovators: David Wendell

Printed thin-film solar panels


Thin-film solar cells convert more solar energy than traditional photo-voltaic solar panels, at a fraction of the cost. As firms apply technology from the printing industry and experiment with new materials and processes, thin-film cells are becoming increasingly efficient and cost-effective. This is an area of continuous innovation, and may hold the key to using solar power on a large scale, without relying on government subsidies.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Nanosolar, Solexant

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Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) uses mirrors or lenses to focus the sun’s rays onto a small area. The heat this produces can then generate electricity – for example, by heating water to run a steam turbine.

Solar energy can be stored in the form of heat for several hours, then used to generate electricity when it’s needed – CSP systems are being developed that can store energy for up to 15 hours.

North Africa and the Middle East receive huge amounts of solar energy. A project called DESERTEC aims to connect CSP plants in the desert to a European supergrid – meaning that on a dark December night, your home could be powered by sunshine from the Sahara.

Benefits: carbon reduction, energy generation
Innovators: DESERTEC


Around 85% of Rwanda’s population lives in rural areas. Yet these areas account for just one third of the country’s energy consumption. An initiative by electrical engineering students at Imperial College London – known as e.quinox – has developed an off-grid solar energy supply for rural villages. The initiative sets up kiosks in communities to charge small devices like mobile phones and larger community appliances like medical equipment. Energy kiosks have been installed in three villages in the Gakenke District of Rwanda’s Northern Province. The e.quinox solar energy supply model has the potential to be replicated across rural Rwanda if it proves it can finance itself.

Benefit: energy generation
Innovator: e.quinox

A four-lane, one-mile stretch of road could generate enough power for 500 homes.


The drive for sustainable energy has seen solar panels embedded in everything from phones to window panes to insect traps. So how about generating electricity by covering our roads, car parks and pavements in solar cells?

A mile of dual carriageway could generate enough power for 500 homes, as well as street lighting and traffic systems. ‘Electric roads’ could also include LEDs to display road markings and warning messages to drivers, heaters to clear ice and snow, and charging points for electric vehicles.

Panels are expensive, so we’re unlikely to see largescale electric road networks in the near future – but small pilot projects are already in the pipeline in Holland and the US.

Watch a video

Benefits: carbon reduction, energy generation
Innovators: TNO , Solar Roadways


Onsite energy generation using solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). It is fuelled by renewable sources such as natural gas or biogas (produced from manure and organic waste). SOFCs convert fuel to electricity twice as fast as current technologies, and emit significantly less greenhouse gas. Generating electricity on site means no energy is lost in transfer from the grid. The thermal energy produced can also be used to provide heating and hot water.

These energy savings make SOFCs increasingly cost-effective, especially for powering energy-hungry facilities such as data centres. Bloom Energy has developed ‘energy servers’ that generate 100kW of power – enough to meet the needs of 100 average homes or a small office building. Google, eBay, Walmart and Coca-Cola are already using the technology.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Bloom Energy


Biomass, such as wood and organic waste, is an abundant renewable source of fuel for electricity, especially in rural areas in the developing world. Energy suppliers install biomass plants, supplying local householders on a pay-as-you-use basis.

Husk Power Systems uses rice husks to power its biogas plants to provide electricity in rural India. Rice husks are an abundant source of biomass in the rice-growing regions of rural South Asia. This technology simply converts what would otherwise be a waste stream into a fuel for renewable power.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Husk Power Systems (HPS)


Before 2022, the Indian government’s National Solar Mission aims to install 20 gigawatts of solar power and 20 million solar lighting systems to replace kerosene lamps in rural communities. However, the cost of fitting a solar lighting system can still be prohibitive for off-grid rural households. Micro-grid systems can help tackle this. Innovators such as Mera Gao Micro-Grid Power have partnered with the Sarathi Development Foundation, an Indian NGO, to work with villagers to decide whether solar-powered lighting is an appropriate replacement for traditional kerosene lighting. If the villagers decide there is a benefit, MGP installs a renewable energy micro-grid consisting of solar panels, efficient LED lighting and mobile phone charging points.

Innovators: Mera Gao Micro-Grid Power


Schemes to allow people to come together and bulk buy solar panels for their homes can help increase uptake of solar power, cut costs and potentially stimulate demand through the ‘neighbourhood effect’, where people follow a general trend in their area. In many countries, enterprises are negotiating group bulk buy deals for householders looking to buy rooftop solar panels. The firm manages the solar installer selection process and negotiates a group discount in exchange for a customer referral fee from the supplier.

Innovator: One block off the grid

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A free social networking site that offers a fun way to reduce household energy use.


A free social networking site that offers a fun and interactive way to keep track and reduce household energy use - without the need for monitoring gadgets or smart meters.

Welectricity began in the Caribbean and now has members in over 40 countries. Users are asked to add information about their energy bills, appliances and household, where a summary of their energy is generated. What’s unique is that users then create a network of friends and neighbours to compare each other's energy use and share energy saving tips via photos and videos to help one another conserve energy and save money.

Benefits: energy efficiency

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Grundfos group, a manufacturer of pumps and water technologies, has developed a solar-powered water pump which people can pay to use with their mobile phone. Grundfos have partnered with the Red Cross to deploy these pumps at 14 sites across arid and semi-arid Kenya, including the drought-prone Isiolo district. As well as providing much-needed safe drinking water, each solar-powered pump saves around 700 tonnes of CO2 per year, according to the Nordic Development Fund . Solar power also stops dependence on imported fossil fuels and physical labour to pump fresh water.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Grundfos


Introducing renewable energy to the electricity grid poses several potential problems, including how to make sure fluctuations in weather don’t affect power supply. The Island of Maui in Hawaii is set to build a new ‘smart’ electricity grid that will manage a relatively high percentage of renewable energy. This project will test, and hopefully show, that an electricity grid supplied by a large proportion of renewable energy can be effective.

Benefits: energy generation
Innovators: Cyber Defense Institute, HP Japan, Hitachi, JFE Engineering, Mizuho Corporate Bank and Sharp to collaborate with Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO).

The bulbs last at least six hours a day.


The world’s first solar-powered light bulbs will help improve the lives of people in the developing world who live without reliable access to electricity. While traditional kerosene lamps are toxic and polluting , these are clean, affordable, long-lasting and durable.

The bulbs last more than six hours on a single charge, and automatically switch off in bright light to save energy. They’re already used in Pakistan and Kenya, and will soon arrive in Iraq, where they will help people in the war-torn country avoid the high cost of running diesel generators.

See the bulbs in use

Benefits: energy efficiency, carbon reduction
Innovators: Nokero

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