Revolutionary Tidal Fence is Set to Trap the Sea’s Power

UK-designed turbines aim to harness tidal energy to produce cheaper electricity ? without endangering marine life, reports Climate News Network

Illustration showing how Kepler Energy’s turbine rotor blades will look installed in a tidal fence configuration. Photograph: Kepler Energy

By: Alex Kirby

A British company has announced plans for an array of unique marine turbines that can operate in shallower and slower-moving water than current designs.

Kepler Energy, whose technology is being developed by Oxford University’s department of engineering science, says the turbines will in time produce electricity more cheaply than off-shore wind farms.

It hopes to install its new design in what is called a tidal energy fence, one kilometre long, in the Bristol Channel ? an estuary dividing South Wales from the west of England ? at a cost of £143m.

The fence is a string of linked turbines, each of which will start generating electricity as it is completed, until the whole array is producing power. The fence’s total output is 30 megawatts (MW), and 1MW can supply around 1,000 homes in the UK.

Power outputs

Peter Dixon, Kepler’s chairman, told Reuters news agency: “If we can build up to, say, 10km worth, which is a very extended fence, you’re looking at power outputs of five or six hundred megawatts. And just to visualise that, it’s like one small nuclear reactor’s worth of electricity being generated from the tides in the Bristol Channel.”

The new Transverse Horizontal Axis Water Turbine (THAWT) ? whose design is compared to that of a water mill ? will use the latest carbon composite technology, and should be suitable for the waters around Britain, as well as overseas.

Because the turbines sit horizontally beneath the surface of the sea, they can be sited in water shallower than the 30-metre depth typically required by current designs. And because the water is slow-moving, the company says, fish can safely avoid the turbines’ blades.

Although the technology is regarded as environmentally benign, Kepler says it will still undergo a rigorous environmental impact assessment during the planning process to ensure that it poses no significant risk to marine life and to other users of the sea.

There is more good news for proponents of renewable energy after the UK government ? which is no longer encouraging onshore wind and solar energy ? gave the go-ahead for a large offshore wind farm that could provide power for up to two million homes.

The new wind farm is to be built near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and will have 400 turbines.

Its developers say it could create almost 5,000 jobs during construction. And, earlier this year, they obtained planning consent for another installation nearby which, with the new development, will form one of the largest offshore wind farms in the world.

North Seas assets

But the fossil fuel industry is far from abandoning its own interest in British waters as the energy giant BP has announced that it is to invest about £670m to extend the life of its North Sea assets.

It said it would be drilling new wells, replacing undersea infrastructure, and introducing new technologies to help it to produce as much as possible from the area, whose future would be secured “until 2030 and beyond”.

In November, delegates to the UN climate change convention annual negotiations will gather in Paris to try to conclude an ambitious and effective agreement on preventing the global average temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions exceeding 2C above its pre-industrial level.

Last year, the Convention’s executive secretary, Christiana Figueres, said the world’s long-term goal was to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2100 ? a target she said would require leaving three-quarters of fossil fuels in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them”, she said.


Solar-powered Sure House will stand up to the elements

By Stu Robarts

The Sure House was designed in response to Hurricane Sandy

Lots of houses nowadays are designed to minimize the amount of energy they use and to generate their own electricity. Fewer, though, are designed to withstand extreme coastal weather conditions as well. The high-tech and feature-loaded Sure House has been developed to do all of this.

The Sure house was designed by students at the Stevens Institute of Technology in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That hurricane damaged an estimated 350,000 homes in New Jersey, US, where the Stevens Institute is located, with many left uninhabitable.

Developed with support from the PSEG Foundation, the house is the Stevens Institute’s entry into the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. The contest challenges participating teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.

The Sure House, so-called as it merges the words SUstainable and REsilient, is described by the Stevens team as “a vision of a sustainable and resilient home for the areas at greatest risk due to rising sea-levels and more damaging storms.”

It’s claimed to use 90 percent less energy than traditional homes, to be fully solar-powered, to be storm-proof and to have a “resilient energy hub” that ensures a supply of electricity even in the wake of a disaster.

Despite all this, the 1,000 sq ft (93 sq m) house is also reported to be a comfortable and architecturally innovative home for a middle or working class family of four, with the open floor-plan of a 60s-style modern beach cottage.

The house sits on a bed of pilotis (supports) to elevate it out of reach of flooding. It has fiber-composite siding developed in conjunction with its other storm resilient features. This is used to create an armored and waterproof shell for the house.

Storm shutters are also employed to provide shade from the sun throughout the year and act as a barrier against water and debris during storms. A rainscreen system on the house’s façade, meanwhile, provides protection from water by way of an additional outer skin of cladding with an air cavity.

In the event that any internal flooding does occur, the Sure House has an open-web wooden-truss floor-system that allows for the movement of air and reduces the chance of rotting or mold damage. Water-resistant cork board flooring and vinyl tile flooring is also used.

To minimize its use of energy, the Sure House has a highly efficient building envelope designed to reduce heat loss. An energy recovery ventilation system is used to precondition incoming air and a solar-electric system is used to heat water.

An efficient heat pump is employed to heat, cool and dehumidify the space and has the added benefit of being able to control the temperature in each room of the house.

Energy-efficient appliances are also installed. A large capacity Turbowash washing machine is designed to wash clothes quickly, saving time and energy with each load. A hybrid dryer, meanwhile, recovers lost heat to reduce energy demand.

The Sure House is said to be fully solar-powered and has building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) built into its storm shutters. The solar panels panels harvest energy when the shutters are raised open.

To ensure the house is still operational in the event of power being knocked offline by severe weather, the solar-electric hot water system and integrated heat pump can heat water independently of the grid. When connected to the grid, the solar array is reported to typically produce around 10,000 watts, or 3,000 W of emergency power when isolated from the grid.

The house also has USB chargers integrated into its exterior so that neighbors can charge mobile devices if needed.

The Sure House has been in development for two years and is entered into the Solar Decathlon 2015, which takes place in California this coming October. After that, the house will become a public education facility.

The video below is an animated walk-through of the Sure House.


Nipi Cooler stays icey for a week, powers your gadgets

By Stu Robarts

The nipi cooler’s solar panels deliver 6 W of peak power each and are used in pairs to provide power for electronic devices, such as smartphones or speakers (Credit: Francesca Emma)

Above all else, it’s important that any device does its bread-and-butter functionality well. The nipi cooler, which is currently the subject of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, is said to keep ice frozen for six full days, and comes packed with what its makers are calling “21st century survival features.”

Like Solar Cool Technologies’ Solar Cooler, the nipi has its own photovoltaic panels, but unlike the Solar Cooler these aren’t used for cooling. The contents of the nipi are kept cool using a double-insulated lid and thick walls. It has 50 quarts (47 l) of cold storage space, which can accommodate around 70 cans.

The solar panels deliver 6 W of peak power each and are used in pairs to provide power for 1,000 lumen internal and external LED lighting and electronic devices, such as smartphones or speakers. The panels can be mounted on the cooler’s outer lid or set up away from the nipi cooler. It’s also possible to attach additional panels to increase power provision.

The cooler also comes with a 14,000 mAh lithium polymer battery, with a second being made available as an optional extra. We asked nipi’s developers how its battery pack is charged up.

“nipi is expandable so it does vary depending if you have purchased extra batteries etc,” they told us. “However to give an approximate guide based on the basic version with one panel and one 14,000 mAh battery, it takes about 7 hours with mains and the same with optimal conditions for solar. ?Our solar panels use SunPower cells which are the highest efficiency in the world.”

There are two USB ports on the cooler’s exterior for charging mobile devices or powering Bluetooth speakers, for example, and a further two inside its dry lockable storage space, where valuables can be kept. A fully juiced up single battery is claimed capable of fully charging a smartphone seven times over. The developers also say that it will take less than an hour to charge a smartphone using a single PV panel.

(Credit: Francesca Emma)

Among the other features of the nipi cooler are cup holders and a cutting board. It’s designed for all-terrain use with oversized wheels, which its creators say can handle sand, mud, gravel and cobbles. A telescopic handle and lightweight design are reported to make transporting it easy.

A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign is underway for the nipi cooler. At the time of writing, pledges of US$195 for a nipi with a single 14,000 mAh battery are available (a second optional battery is available at $49). Assuming all goes to plan with the campaign and roll-out, shipping expected to begin in March 2016.


Micro Wind Turbines Still In Play As US Wind Energy Vaults To #1 Worldwide

By: Tina Casey

The US Energy Department is out with two new reports that underscore how rapidly the domestic wind energy sector has become a job-creating force to be reckoned with, despite the efforts of certain state and federal legislators to thwart its growth. Based on some of the comment threads around here when the topic of micro wind turbines pops up, I’m especially interested in the Energy Department’s findings on the growth of the US distributed wind energy market.

Image: Courtesy of

US Wind Energy Vaults Into The Lead

Leaving aside distributed wind energy and micro wind turbines for the moment, the Energy Department’s new 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report (produced by our friends over at LBNL — Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) finds that the utility-scale wind energy sector supported 73,000 jobs in 2014, a huge jump up from the 22,500 jobs the DOE toted up in 2013.

That’s still with a minimal contribution from the aforementioned US offshore wind energy sector, which is only just starting to crank up with the first “steel in the water” for a new wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

While the US is still second in the world in total installed wind capacity at 66 gigawatts, it bested all the others in terms of total wind energy production in 2014. That’s particularly impressive considering that the US has yet to tap its massive offshore wind energy potential.

Corresponding to the growth in wind energy production has been a drop in prices, to the point that wind energy is competitive with conventional sources in many US markets.

According to the report, prices peaked at almost 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2009, and the power purchase price in 2014 was only 2.35 cents/kWh.

Contrast that with the employment free-fall in the US fossil fuel sector. The natural gas industry is in an uproar because President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan skips right over it in favor of renewable energy. The coal sector has been bleeding jobs in Appalachia for generations primarily due to mechanization along with a very recent clampdown on destructive mountaintop mining practices, and now other coal regions are in jeopardy due to the Plan’s new carbon pollution rules.

As for oil, according to our friends over at, oil companies are making “the deepest cuts in a generation to reassure investors,” and the employment freefall has continued through last month.

What Is A Micro Wind Turbine?

Read more »

Vector offers free solar + Tesla storage systems to NZ consumers

By Sophie Vorrath

New Zealand’s solar plus storage market is set to get another kick start, with the announcement of a new initiative offering more than 100 free solar and battery storage systems to select NZ consumers, community groups and schools.

The initiative, launched on Monday by NZ network operator Vector, offers free use of 3kW Vector Solar panels plus a Tesla Powerwall home battery system for 100 individuals, households and community groups, with another 30 systems on offer for state and state-integrated schools.

Potential candidates for the Future of Energy campaign are to be nominated via a dedicated website – – with votes to be directed to those most deserving of the benefits of free solar plus storage.

For the first 10 years, Vector will retain ownership of the systems. After 10 years, ownership will pass to each winner.

As we have reported on our sister site, RenewEconomy, Vector signed a partnership with US tech upstart Tesla, in May, to bring its much-celebrated Powerwall battery storage offering to its home market, and has been considering a push into Australia.

It seems that this initiative will allow it to gauge the performance of the Tesla Powerwall and how it fits into its network strategy.

Vector CEO Simon McKenzie has a proven track record as one of the most progressive thinkers in the utility space and as a pioneer of a leasing system for solar and storage – a technology combination he has described as a game-changer.

“Vector is committed to bringing New Zealanders the future of energy,” he said in a statement on Monday. “From smart home systems to electric vehicle charging, we create and source the world’s best technology to help Kiwi families and businesses live and work smarter.

“Now we’ve launched our exciting Future of Energy initiative to reward deserving organisations, individuals, families and state and state integrated schools within the AECT area who are doing their bit to energise their local communities.

“Each winner will receive a world-leading system, incorporating 3kW Vector Solar panels installed on their roof, plus a Tesla Powerwall home battery, free for them to use for 10 years.   This means they will enjoy thousands of hours of free power over the next 10 years.

McKenzie says the scheme will also help Vector to gauge the advantages of the Tesla batteries for both individual users and for the network as a whole.

“This research will be invaluable as we develop our battery and energy solutions going forward,” he said.

The scheme has the backing of the Auckland Energy Consumer Trust via a fund historically used for undergrounding projects, and recently extended to include new technology such as solar and batteries.

Future of Energy is open to those living within the AECT district, which covers Auckland, Manukau and the northern parts of Papakura (the old Auckland Electric Power Board area).

The competition’s 130 winners are to be announced in November.