Researchers are hoping to usher in an urban energy revolution by fitting our homes with third-generation solar cells, micro wind turbines and seasonal energy storage.
The idea is that moving energy production from remote power plants to the local neighbourhood will increase the uptake of renewable energy, a move that could cut energy bills for consumers as well as decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
In the meantime, researchers have just built the first PowerNEST, a wind- and solar-powered energy system that can be installed on top of new and existing buildings. It is specifially designed to capture and amplify the wind in urban environments – which flows towards a building and accelerates upwards – meaning that it can generate energy even with the slightest breeze.
‘The main idea of PowerNEST is that it makes use of the upflow of wind caused by the facade of the building and then also accelerates it internally,’ said Diana Kiss, R&D Manager at IBIS Power, which has developed the system with the help of the EU-funded IRWES project. This way the wind turbine inside the unit is able to generate more energy and run more hours during the year.’
Kiss says that for a coastal city, like Amsterdam, the PowerNEST system could generate between 20 000 and 22 000 kWh a year for a ten story apartment building. ‘One household in the Netherlands uses on average 3 000 kWh per year, so one unit can power around seven households. And if you don’t use the energy you generate, it goes back to the grid.’
Urban wind farm
Because you can place one or more PowerNESTs on most buildings higher than four storeys, installing multiple units could create an urban wind farm.
‘When there are a lot of people and cities in a small country, you have to consider how much agriculture field you use for wind farms,’ said Kiss. ‘(With PowerNEST) you don’t have losses due to the transportation of the energy and you don’t have to use the valuable agriculture fields to place the wind farms.’
Before renewable energy is the go-to energy source for city dwellers, however, it has to overcome one perennial issue – how to generate energy when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.[…]
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