Energy consumer technology is going through something of a revolution.
Firstly, it is becoming much easier to save energy—and therefore money—by using "smart" technology to switch off at peak times and switch on when power is cheap.
At the same time rooftop solar panels are becoming both more affordable and efficient, enabling customers to generate far more renewable energy than they need.
All of this can make traditional energy consumers savers and producers of energy—that they can sell back to the grid or even on to others who may be more in need of it at the time.
Now, obviously, like the BBC, we don’t endorse any one app or piece of kit. Other app providers exist and they could well be better.
But for illustrative purposes here are five pieces of software—web applications or “apps”—creating a new generation of energy users and producers who have, on occasion, been given the truly horrible name of “prosumers.”
1. Ohmconnect: Switch Off a Few Hours a Week, Get Sent a Check
Ohmconnect is an energy app start-up in California that helps customers save energy and earn money doing it.
It’s designed for people getting energy from the grid and it works like this: You earn money by powering down gadgets in your home for about 30 minutes following a notification from the app. This can actually be as easy as turning off a few light switches.
If you have smart gadgets—like Nest thermostats or a Tesla Model S sitting in the garage—the app can also turn things down for you, so you don’t even have to be home to clock up your #OhmHours.
You then get paid up—to $300 per year—with the added satisfaction that you’ve saved tonnes (literally) of CO2 emissions.
Everything is monitored through a simple mobile app and web dashboard. You can log in with Facebook or Google and even give #OhmHours to others as a referral.
You can get the detail on exactly how Ohmconnect are able to do this on their blog.
Meet Adam. Adam has a beard, likes trees and uses OhmConnect
Not long ago a group of American electric power producers got together to try to stop a rule that allows utility customers to be compensated for saving power at wholesale prices—which can spike to a few times above retail prices.
This obviously threatened the Ohmconnect business model.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that utility customers who save energy at specific time are entitled to receive those payments.
OhmConnect is only currently available in California.
2. sonnenCommunity: "A Utility Without Power Plants"
Last year a German company called sonnenBatterie released a home energy storage battery to rival Tesla Energy’s much-feted Powerwall.
And it all happened so fast—sonnenBatterie actually beat the long-trailed Powerwall to the U.S. retail market.
The big attraction with sonnenBatterie is that you can buy the full package—solar panels, inverters, control technology and of course the lithium-ion battery pack—for little more than 10,000 euros. (This is better than buying it all separately, although the battery isn’t the biggest out there).
The company then set up sonnenCommunity—which is simply a virtual pool of people with these solar-plus-storage systems.
With this virtual network, system owners can connect others with the system to trade or share their excess solar power.
Everyone with a sonnenBatterie is in the network. The software calculates how much is fed into the grid by each user and gives the producer control over selling that on to others—whether they have a sonnenBatterie or not.
Mathias Block from the company—now just called sonnen—explains: “We’re kind of an utility without power plants since we’ll have thousands of small, decentralized and digital connected producers and consumers. Conventional producers of energy with their fossil and nuclear power and huge centralized plants won’t be necessary anymore.”
3. Local Volts: "Anyone Can Become an Energy Farmer"
Working on the same principle Australian start-up Local Volts is aiming to capitalize on this month’s arrival of the Tesla home battery in Australia by creating a system whereby consumers can trade their surplus energy with other small-scale consumers.
Jitendra Tomar, from the Sydney-based startup, has said: “Anybody, whether you’re big or small, whether you’re a farmer or residential person, whether you’re a high school or tennis club, can become an energy farmer.”
This system also puts control in the hands of the purchaser, who can decide who they want to buy their energy from. Although this can be based on price, it may also be a good way to support your local solar panel-clad high school.
Although traditional energy utilities don’t much like these new trends, the companies that manage distribution in Australia like Citipower and Powercor are taking up the challenge, celebrating the Aussie cities that share self-produced power power using their ready-to-go networks.
4. Entelligo: Lets Home Solar Salespeople Find You a Better Deal
This Amsterdam-based startup was founded by three Italians looking to help renewable energy salespeople sell you all the stuff you need to generate your own power.
Entelligo Pro is a mobile sales app that lets people selling renewable energy technologies calculate costs of solar panels and installation for a customer during their doorstep pitch.
It can provide graphs and other simple visual data to show the customer how much money and CO2 they can save—and it’ll even create a digital sales proposal the customer can sign on the spot.
But ultimately they want to network all local or national suppliers of various home energy services together—so the iPad-wielding salespeople will eventually work in real time with local solar panel manufacturers and installation companies to offer combined services at the cheapest possible prices.
They also want to use the simpler bits of this system to create another app—called Entelligo Home, due to be released in spring 2016—that will let a householder do this themselves, even contacting a local solar provider if they want to get up and running.
5. Google’s Project Sunroof: Google Map Your Solar Potential
In energy app terms this is an oldie but a goodie. It’s a web application within which you simply enter your zip code—and in seconds you’ll have an estimate of how solar might work on your roof.
Wondering If Solar Is Right for You? Just Ask Google's 'Project Sunroof' http://t.co/Ql0xZQ7IxU @solarfeeds @SolarEnergyNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1440018321.0
Launched in summer 2015 in Google’s home state of California, Project Sunroof already serves a number of cities across the U.S.
Because it’s Google, it’s likely to roll out and internationalize faster than some of the others—and will likely producing a multiplier effect for the likes of Entelligo, sonnenCommunity and Local Volts.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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