Category: Energy innovations

METER – insights into the timing and flexibility of electricity usage

METER is a national research project to understand what we use electricity for. And anyone can take part.


This study asks thousands of UK households to submit a one day record of their activities. During this day their electricity use is also measured minute by minute.

The combination of activity and electricity data can gives valuable insights into the timing and flexibility of electricity. METER data is intended to help with the development of new approaches to reduce demand at critical times, while avoiding inconvenience for users. METER will test different forms of incentives and interventions to establish an evidence base for load shifting against a statistically robust baseline.

This becomes especially important when trying to make better use of variable renewable sources of electricity. By identifying a load shifting potential of only 1kW (half the power of a washing machine) in 1% of UK households, the national cost saving could easily exceed a quarter of a billion pounds.

The scale of the project is made possible by the innovative use of smart phones.

Here is an example of my (Peter Bates) household’s energy usage on 21/22 September 2016. (Note we do have Solar PV and did not use the washing machine that day). You can clearly see the peak usage during the cooking of the evening meal.


More information on the METER Project and take part in the research.


Get the latest METER Project newsletter Autumn 2016

Altaeros Energies uses helium-filled inflatable to harness consistent winds

Altaeros Energies is capturing media attention with the blimp-like appearance of its prototype inflatable airborne turbine, but it is claimed that the innovation could also cut energy costs by up to 65 percent.

A helium-filled inflatable shell allows the airborne wind turbine (AWT) to ascend to heights of more than 1,000 feet, where winds are more consistent and more than five times stronger than those at the level of traditional tower-mounted turbines, says Altaeros Energies.

The company, which came out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has just put a 10m-wide prototype to the test. This climbed to more than 100m above ground, produced power at altitude, and landed in an automated cycle. It lifted the Southwest Skystream turbine to produce more than double the power at high altitude of a ground-based equivalent. The turbine is transported and deployed from a towable docking trailer and held steady by strong tethers. The lifting technology is adapted from aerostats, industrial cousins of the blimps that lift heavy communications and radar equipment.

Full article in Building4Change

Research leads to affordable LED bulbs then “smart lighting”

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a new technique that paves the way for manufacturing affordable LED light bulbs that will have a dramatic impact on carbon emissions.

The process will be utilised by Plessey, a semiconductor manufacturer based in Plymouth, UK that involves growing gallium nitride crystals on silicon that could drastically reduce the cost of making LEDs for lighting in offices and homes. The company may eventually be able to develop “smart lighting” from LED light bulbs.

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are the small, coloured lights currently used in electronic equipment, bicycle lights and roadside signs. Many scientists see them as the ideal replacement for old-fashioned tungsten filament light bulbs, which are being phased out by the EU because of the amount of electricity they waste and the consequent impact on carbon emissions.

Researchers estimate that a worldwide switch to LEDs, which are far more energy-efficient, would enable the closure of 560 power plants and result in annual CO2 savings equivalent to the output of all the cars on the planet.

LEDs are also being designed to give off a more natural quality of light, which will be better for people’s health. They could potentially be used as “smart lighting” that can switch itself on or off when a person enters or leaves a room, or adjust its brightness according to the amount of daylight.

Until now, however, they have been very expensive to produce. LED light bulbs currently cost as much as £40, but this could be reduced to below £8.

The potential return on value for money is high. LEDs last for 100,000 hours at a time, compared with the 1,000 hour lifetimes offered by tungsten filament light bulbs and the 10,000 hours claimed for fluorescent lighting. The average light bulb in Britain is on for four hours every day. So, on average, LED light bulbs would only have to be changed once in every person’s lifetime.

More significant, however, are the likely benefits for the planet. Because tungsten filament light bulbs lose much of their energy as heat, just 5% of the energy they consume is used as light. Fluorescent tubes range from 20% to 25% efficiency. LEDs, however, are currently about 30% efficient and Humphreys hopes to raise that figure to 60% in time.

This means that they require far less energy than conventional bulbs. In the UK alone, the researchers estimate that the nationwide use of LEDs would save 15% of the electricity generated by power stations, resulting in a similar reduction in CO2 emissions. There are also potential cost savings: a recent (2010) US Department of Energy report estimates that savings of $20 billion per year would result if LED light bulbs became widespread in the US.

See full press release

UK’s First Marine Energy Park to harvest 27 Gigawatts of Wave Power by 2050

The UK’s climate Change Minister Greg Barker has announced that South West England will soon be home to the country’s first Marine Energy Park. The park, once completed, will stretch from Bristol to the Isles of Scilly and will have the potential to generate 27 gigawatts of power from the waves and tides of the area by 2050 – the same amount of power generated by 8 coal-fired plants. The project will draw on public and private resources with a huge boost from the world’s leading wave energy research and development facilities located along the future Marine Energy Park’s coastline.

During his visit, the Minister launched the South West Marine Energy Park Prospectus which outlines how the region’s public and private sector will work together with the government and other key national bodies such as the Crown Estate.
In the past seven years £100 million has been invested in the south west marine energy industry creating world leading research and demonstration facilities. Such investment has supported the development of the largest consented area for marine technologies in the world at Cornwall’s Wave Hub, the Fab–Test nursery site at Falmouth, the new marine science building at Plymouth and globally–leading research facilities at  Exeter University and the National Composites Centre at Bristol.
To help develop and commercialise wave and tidal technology, it is claimed that the UK has the most comprehensive marine energy support programme in the world. This provides help from the earliest stages of university research through to demonstration and roll-out under the Renewables Obligation.

Wave power to generate green electricity

Green energy company Ecotricity is adding the power of the Sea to that of the Wind and the Sun – to make its Green Electricity.

Ecotricity is developing a radical Wave power device called Searaser – which it believes can address two of the biggest barriers to the deployment of renewable energy on the scale that Britain needs – the issues of cost and intermittent output.

Searaser is the brainchild of British engineer Alvin Smith; it harnesses the power of ocean swells to create electricity.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said:

“Our vision is for Britain’s electricity needs to be met entirely from the big three renewable energy sources – the Wind, the Sun and the Sea.

“Until now, the Sea has been the least viable of those three energy sources and we believe that Searaser will change all of that. Indeed we believe Searaser has the potential to produce electricity at a lower cost than any other type energy, not just other forms of renewable energy but all ‘conventional’ forms of energy too.”

Inventor Alvin Smith said the main barrier to making wave-power efficient and therefore cost-effective – was resilience against the hostile ocean environment.

“Most existing wave technologies seek to generate electricity in the sea itself. But as we know water and electricity don’t mix – and seawater is particularly corrosive – so most other devices are very expensive to manufacture and maintain.

“But Searaser doesn’t generate the electricity out at sea. It simply uses the motion of the ocean swell to pump seawater through an onshore generator.”

Searaser pumps seawater using a vertical piston between two buoys – one on the surface of the water, the other suspended underwater and tethered to a weight on the seabed. As the ocean swell moves the buoys up-and-down the piston pumps volumes of pressurised seawater through a pipe to an onshore turbine to produce electricity.


This opens up the additional option for Searaser units to be used to supply energy on-demand. By pumping seawater into coastal storage reservoir, it can be released through a generator as required – thus making not just energy from the Sea but energy that can be turned on and off as required.  Such a system will go a long way to solving the problem of renewable energy’s naturally intermittent output on Britain’s electricity grid.

Ecotricity’s move into wave power comes as the Government and the Crown Estate make changes that they hope will encourage more development of wave-power in Britain.

  • From January 2012, the Crown Estate – which owns the seabed surrounding the UK – has reduced the burden of financial guarantees it requires from wave and tidal developers to obtain a lease option from £25 million to £5 million.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said:

“Marine Energy is a real priority for the coalition government.

“It’s great news that Ecotricity are now making waves in marine power with their plans for Searaser. The UK leads the world in developing marine energy technology and it’s vital that the sector continues to bring forward innovative new technologies.

“Marine energy is becoming an increasingly attractive investment for businesses, not least because we are proposing more than a doubling of financial support to the sector through the ROCs scheme.”

Vince said Ecotricity’s investment will drive the next phase of Searasers’ development, by having a commercial scale Searaser in the Sea within 12 months and 200 Searaser units around the British coastline within five years.

Vince said:

“The potential is enormous.  This is a British invention that could transform the energy market not just here in Britain but around the world.  Our plan is to develop the technology and make them here in Britain, bringing green jobs as well as green energy to our country.”

Ecotricity Press Release Watch video