We often think of technology as the latest shiny gadget some Silicon Valley company is trying to sell us. That’s because smartphones and computers get most of the marketing attention. But technology can change our day-to-day lives, and the fate of the planet we inhabit, in profound ways.
When it comes to innovations in energy, new technologies are introducing real changes how much energy it takes to power our world, and the ways in which we use it. Artificial intelligence is helping to decide the best times to use energy and new fuel sources are being developed to replace coal. With smart decision making, we can make huge strides in safeguarding the environment.
Here are four emerging technologies that are making our world more energy efficient:
It can be hard in a busy household to consciously save energy. We already have so many daily concerns to think about and sometimes saving energy isn’t a top priority. Plus, it can be hard to know what we really gain from doing so. It seems like utility bills get higher no matter what we do!
OhmConnect is an emerging service that makes it easy to want to save energy. Not only is it free to use, but you can actually get paid to use less power! Basically, you’ll receive a notification to reduce energy use for a short time—an event they call an OhmHour. During that time, you turn off your lights, adjust your thermostat, unplug electronic devices, and whatever else you can do to save energy. If you save enough energy to beat the energy goal they set for you, you’ll be rewarded with either prizes or cash. It’s a win for you and for our planet.
A number of companies are making it easier for homeowners and renters to save energy, without lifting a finger. OhmConnect users know that saving money is just a matter of flipping a switch. Now, energy-saving smart devices make that simple step even easier.
With smart thermostats, homeowners can control their heating and cooling while on vacation. They can program their smart lighting to turn off when they leave for work. Or their smart washing machine can monitor local energy usage and run loads during cheaper, off-peak hours.
Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant do more than let you check the weather or help you spell “Albuquerque.” These voice-commanded personal assistants can work as DIY central hubs to control and connect all your smart devices. Use them to program a smart sensor to turn your child’s bedroom light off every time they leave the room. Or connect a smart ceiling fan to your thermostat — a smart home hub can adjust both settings for maximum comfort at the lowest price. Plus, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of the couch!
And to tie #1 and #2 together - earning with OhmConnect is even easier with smart devices. Automate your #OhmHours by connecting your smart home device with your OhmConnect account. Once the #OhmHour begins, your smart devices will automatically shut off. No need to remember or, again, get off the couch. Instead, take a short nap while you save energy. You’ll make money while you sleep and help save the planet!
Even the electrical grid has raised its IQ.
Today’s power delivery system is more than power lines, substations, and transformers. It’s a complex, interconnected system that uses artificial intelligence and smart meters. Because the system is interconnected, your smart appliances can “talk” with the grid. They can share information about your current energy demand or the cost of energy per kilowatt. That lets you save energy or use it during off-peak hours.
Before the smart grid, the utility company’s job was easy — supply power to customers who bought it. Now, the relationship is more give-and-take. The smart grid adjusts to energy needs in real time. The grid can tell your dishwasher when it’s cheapest to run a wash cycle. It can change your thermostat up or down. The result is less energy waste.
The smart grid’s biggest benefit to preserving the planet is that it makes alternative energy sources available. There are times when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. And when wind farms and solar panels can’t produce, utility companies must source less efficient and more costly energy sources like coal. But when clean energy is available, the smart grid can shift to renewables, always keeping them in the mix. That makes solar and wind power more reliable and readily available.
Every living creature produces energy. Plants turn sunlight and CO2 into energy. Animals turn plants and other animals into fuel for life. We mimic photosynthesis with solar panels. And we’ve figured out how to turn corn and animal waste into biofuels.
But what if we could shrink this natural energy producing process to the microscopic level? What if we could grow tiny organisms that eat electricity and poop out power? This isn’t science fiction. It’s already happening. And it’s called electrofuel.
Scientists and chemists are developing microscopic organisms that can take CO2 and water and make a biofuel. All that’s needed is a jolt of electricity to get the whole process going, and then the little bugs get busy. Several steps are required to convert the byproducts to a stable fuel. But once finished, the electrofuel is a clean energy source that consumes CO2 and releases oxygen just like photosynthesis. And the amount of electricity needed to produce electrofuel is shockingly low — so low it can be supplied by wind and solar power. That makes electrofuel a carbon-neutral source of energy.
Electrofuel organisms harness ten times more energy than plants during photosynthesis. And they use less land and fewer water resources. Today, government-sponsored research is developing an electrofuel that can power automobiles and airplanes.
It’s easy to fear the downsides of technology. But these four innovations offer positive changes in how we use energy now and how we might in the future. They give us the tools to make smarter decisions with minimal effort. They instill confidence that we can actually help preserve the planet for future generations.
Written by Morgen Henderson. Morgen is a freelance tech and environment writer from Salt Lake City. In her free time, you can find her traveling the globe and enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds her. You can find her on Twitter at @mo_hendi.