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The Green Tech Revolution
By Jerry Brownstein
Technology is changing our lives in many ways, but perhaps none more startling nor more important than in the area of sustainable energy. As recently as a decade ago fossil fuels were the unchallenged king both on the road and in electricity generation. Electric cars and clean energy sources, like solar and wind, were futuristic concepts that had very little traction in our lives... but that has radically changed. We are beginning to see more electric cars on the road, and it was recently projected that sales of electric vehicles will surpass those of petrol cars by 2038. Global wind power is already producing more electricity than nuclear plants, and solar power is growing exponentially each year. This is an amazing turn-around, and it has been fuelled by a steady flow of new innovative technologies. Let’s have a look at some of the latest advances in this Green Tech Revolution that is making our planet cleaner, healthier and more sustainable.
Most of the world’s electricity is still produced from coal, petroleum and natural gas, but these fossil fuels are gradually being overtaken by sustainable alternatives – particularly solar energy. Large solar ‘farms’ are springing up all over the world as the technology for extracting and storing the free energy from the sun gets increasingly more refined. There are massive solar arrays in California and other western US states. Each one has about 10 million solar panels and produces enough electricity to supply 200,000 homes. There are even bigger ones being constructed in China and India, as those countries try to rise above their dependence on coal. Here on Ibiza there are plans for several solar energy farms, and the first one has been approved for construction near San Miguel.
Producing solar electricity in homes and businesses is another aspect of clean energy that is benefiting from the advances in green technology. Today’s solar panels are vastly more efficient than they were a decade ago, and they are also much less expensive. This has led to a massive expansion in off-the-grid solar power, and the leader of this trend is Elon Musk and his Tesla company. They have spurred innovation with Power Pack batteries that make it easier and more efficient to store excess solar power so it can be used when there is less sun. One of the drawbacks of installing solar panels on the roof of your house is that they are not very nice to look at, but once again, Tesla has come up with a solution - solar panels that are integrated within stylish roof tiles. They not only look good, but they cost less than traditional roofing materials... and that is before you even take into account the value of the electricity they produce.
Wind and waves are also growing sources of clean electric power. Wind energy has become economically competitive with other sources due to improved technology in both the giant turbines and the systems for storing and distributing the electricity. Most of the early wind installations were on land, but now the trend is to put them out to sea where they do not interfere with people’s lives. There are currently over 100 offshore wind farms being developed around the world. The UK and Germany lead the way in Europe, while Japan, China and the US are also focusing heavily on how they can harness the massive potential of offshore wind farms.
The sea is also the source of a new technology that captures the energy of the oceans’ waves and converts it into electricity. It’s called Kinetic Wave Power, and the first major installation is operating in Denmark. These machines are equipped with large floats that move up and down with the waves, and their motion powers electric generators. Experts say that if we could capture just 0.1% of the oceans’ tidal kinetic energy, it would provide over 100% of our global energy needs.
The projections that electric vehicles will take over the roads in the next few decades are based on the technical improvements that are making them more practical. Batteries are getting lighter and more efficient which allows the cars to go much farther on each charge. One of the big challenges has been that recharging is inconvenient and time consuming. Once again, it is Elon Musk and his Tesla company who have taken the lead by constructing a network of super-stations with high tech recharging that is three times faster than the current standard. They recently launched the first two of these stations in California, and more are being built throughout the US and Europe. Here on Ibiza the Balearic Government has adopted a plan to ban the purchase of diesel cars beginning in 2025. This ban will be extended to gasoline cars by 2035, with the aim of making the Balearics fully electric by 2050. It is not only passenger cars that are changing to electric power. The world’s first fully electric, emission-free container barges (dubbed the “Tesla of the canals”) have begun to operate in the Dutch ports of Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Madrid has launched a fleet of electric buses, and Tesla is working on a high performance electric semi t railer that is faster and less expensive to operate than diesel trucks.
Of course there are already trains that run on electricity, but the French company Alstom has gone one step further by developing the world’s first hydrogen-powered train. The Hydrail has fuel cells that sit on top of the train combining hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity with zero emissions. The train has been successfully tested in Germany and will go into service in the near future. Speaking of the future, once again Tesla is several steps ahead with its development of an ultra-speed transportation system called Hyperloop. It is based on a long network of above-ground tubes that are filled with very low air pressure air that allows its bus-sized capsules to travel through the tubes at speeds of over 1,000 kph. Tesla’s aim is to “move people and cargo at speeds never thought possible, and make the world smaller, cleaner and more efficient.” It certainly sounds like science fiction, but the Green Tech Revolution is rapidly bringing our future into the present, so fasten your seat belt and enjoy the ride. •