In this section we provide a selection of articles that can help you save money, and live more environmentally.

Cheap Electricity - What's The Big Idea

In the hunt for cheap electricity, the public and private acceptance of using wind, water and solar energy structures is growing. The technology behind harnessing natural energy is in a constant state of progress, taking wide and steady steps into innovation.

As it has become obvious with rapidly evolving cellphone technology, one should never be too quick to dismiss renewable energy breakthroughs as too "out there". What initially may seem weird has a way of very quickly and easily becoming a part of everyday life.

 

Here are four groundbreaking innovations that are here— or about to be!

Strawberry Tree

There's no tasty fruit hanging from its boughs but the reward is just as sweet. Developed by students at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, Strawberry Trees are a solar-powered public utility that allows people to juice up their mobile devices that are low on power. The structure uses photovoltaic panels to capture the sun's energy and convert it to the electricity that can charge a phone in as little as 15 minutes. Strawberry Trees are currently set up in eight different locations in Serbia. They are not, however, just charging stations. The installations also come with wooden benches where users can sit and socialize as they wait for their device to power up. Now that's pretty sweet.

Faux Foliage

Imagine a forest of shrubbery and trees, palm trees or flower gardens all collecting energy from the sun with fake leaves and petals— and doing so efficiently enough to power a home. While it has yet to become a reality, the concept is alive and well and the London-based company, Solar Botanic, is currently working to develop prototypes. Nanoleaves, as they are called, will require three different types of energy-generation technologies: photovoltaics, thermoelectrics and piezoelectrics. While the leaves would capture solar energy using photovoltaics, electricity would also be generated from the heat of the sun using thermoelectrics. Piezoelectrics would capture energy from the movement of the leaves as they move and sway in the wind. With a canopy of six meters in diameter, it is estimated that one tree could power a home and a small grove or forest could power an entire community. This idea is green in more ways than one.

Transparent Solar Panels

There's nothing like letting the sun shine through the windows if it can mean converting solar energy to clean power. For some time, the goal to create see-through solar panels was stymied by materials that were too thick, heavy and dark. Photovoltaics have changed the game. Because photovoltaic panels are lighter and can be made from thin plastic, semi-transparent solar panels were finally released on the Japanese market last year. The energy-producing cells that are implanted in laminated glass with an air slot for a thermal barrier only offer a 98 watt max efficiency; however, this number is likely to go up as photovoltaic technology improves. It has been found to be a worthwhile construction material that can provide privacy and aesthetic value. This product is likely to bring sheer happiness for eco-conscious homeowners and builders in sunnier climates.

In-Pipe Hydropower

In most large cities, there are millions of gallons of water blasting through a maze of underground pipes at an extremely high pressure. Luckily, somebody has finally noticed this untapped source of hydropower. Though in its infancy, cities are embracing this fairly new technology to create a renewable energy source for their own gain. Rentricity, a New York-based company, developed the technology involving a reverse pump, a generator and controls that can be set up in underground water system vaults or water treatment plants. Scottish Water is already invested in implementing the same technology as of 2012 for its own systems. Once installed, the electricity created by these "mini" hydropower structures is sold right back to a city's grid. Hopefully, more cities will see the benefit of in-pipe hydropower and decide to get their feet wet with the technology as well.

Sometimes, it can be a little bit hard to imagine where some renewable energy ideas come from or if they are truly feasible. Nonetheless, the consistent invention and improvement in this technology is creating the potential for clean, cheap electricity to be a natural resource in itself.

Photo credits: image source

Laura Ginn appreciates the need for investigation into renewable energy sources in order to ensure sustainable energy production. She also knows that to find the best prices in your area for cheap electricity you should check out uSwitch.com the UK’s leading price comparison website.