The Future of Personal Renewable Energy

There is a special section in the recent Wired magazine that highlights their annual Wired World’s Fair, aptly titled NextFest. There is one invention in particular that caught my eye—and my breath: the 6.5 foot tall AVX400 turbine made by AeroVironment, Inc.. It is not yet advertised on their site, but this Treehugger article explains it well. Here is a photo from Treehugger:

The AVX400 turbine has amazing potential: co-op communities in NYC could install these on the tops of apartment buildings, and it’s not like they would be an eyesore, as most NYC apartment buildings are ugly to begin with. If the company manufactures and sells millions, it will only be a matter of time until custom-designed turbines are made that match the building's décor and the surrounding environment.

What it’s really about is scale: chipping away at this problem little by little, one person or business at a time.

The possibilities are endless. What about solar power? One company, Solardyne, makes solar panels and other renewable energy equipment and high efficiency appliances, but cells are currently too expensive and the initial cost is off-putting for most middle class folks.

Personal waterpower could also prove valuable. There are hundreds of millions of homes around the world that could easily install personal hydropower (waterpower) turbines in small rivers. They could be designed in such a way as to not affect wildlife, and perhaps to be virtually invisible. For many folks, it’s about whether these devices are eyesores or not. Although personally, I think transmission lines, power plants and smog are bigger eyesores, but hey—everyone has a different opinion.

Renewable energy devices could be attached to every single machine we own. In fact, many devices we use day-to-day already use this technology: solar-powered calculators, watches and clocks, laptop batteries, etc. Now we need to apply these ideas to everything else. What about solar cells that can be easily attached to your water heater? What if you live in an area where the wind and the sun are strong, so both types of power could offset each other?

I often wonder why scientists have not figured out a way of harnessing the lost energy of vehicular travel. With millions of cars traveling the highways, the least we could do is figure out a way of capturing every last bit of energy they release. Perhaps highways could be designed so that the constant pressure of cars and trucks could power stop lights. I am not an environmental scientist, and this seems tricky, but there has to be a way.

And what about health clubs? Every exercise machine should be rigged wth a Pedal-A-Watt Stationary Bike Power Generator. Perhaps large health clubs could pay their electricity bill by retrofitting each machine with this device or something similar.

To some, these renewable energy devices might seem highly inconsequential, but we need to look at the big picture. It’s about whole buildings and communities embracing this technology and chipping away at the problem little by little. If our government and others around the world will not tackle the global warming problem and our dependence on oil head-on, then it is time for all of us to take personal responsibility and fix this problem ourselves.

Unfortunately, most people don’t even know that these devices exist. The public is not really educated about the potential of these inventions. Sure, we see an occasional article in the news, but usually there is some sort of negative tone attached to it that dissuades everyone from giving this a chance. Many of the papers, magazines and TV programs are in some way run by businesses that are somehow attached to the oil industry, so many amazing inventions never see the light of day. This is common: throughout history, great ideas have been bought and shelved or considered too strange to manufacture on a grand scale. Think Nikola Tesla.

It seems to me that if you put the power of the people behind renewable energy sources, they could really take off. In the end, it is all about cost, availability and personal responsibility. So far, only products like electric cars and solar-powered laptop batteries and calculators are mainstream. If families, individuals and small businesses could easily purchase affordable devices that would either offset or replace their reliance on the power grid, we might be on our way to a much less oil-based economy.