Green Innovations Are Bringing Energy-Saving Technology Home


Advances in technology and consumer demand for energy-saving devices have made green technology increasingly accessible. Many innovations are geared toward homeowners looking to lower not only their energy bills, but also the carbon footprints of their homes and daily activities. From solar-harvesting shingles and windows to shoe insoles that can power a smartphone, this Yale Environment 360 gallery explores a few of these energy-saving technologie



Solar shingles — roofing materials that harvest energy from sunlight and can be integrated into a roof like a conventional asphalt shingle — have become increasingly affordable and popular, thanks to advances in solar cell technology. Several companies offer solar shingles at prices competitive with conventional bolt-on solar panels, which many homeowners find bulky and less attractive. One of the most widely used types is Dow Chemical’s Powerhouse line, which the company claims can cut a typical household’s electric bill by 40-60 percent. Adding solar shingles to a roof can be expensive — over $20,000 in many cases — but federal, state and local incentives can sometimes cut that cost by up to half. (Photo credit: Ben West/Flickr)



New semiconductor technology is advancing the development of windows that could double as solar panels, scientists say. Research into so-called « quantum dots » — ultra-small semiconductor crystals that transmit energy extremely efficiently — shows that quantum dots can be used in transparent materials to harvest sunlight with efficiencies comparable to standard solar panels. This photo shows transparent slabs embedded with quantum dots — much like materials that could be used to make solar-harvesting windows — under UV light. (Photo credit: Los Alamos National Lab



Solar hot water technology, also known as solar thermal systems, was developed more than 120 years ago and remains a cost-effective, reliable way to heat water and cut home energy use. These systems use solar thermal collectors — usually black, metal boxes measuring 4 feet by 8 feet with glass covers that are mounted on a roof — to trap heat and transfer it to water. Although solar hot water technology has never reached the popularity of photovoltaic systems, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that the technology could generate nearly 8 percent of the nation’s heating and cooling by 2050, cutting CO2 emissions by an amount equal to shuttering 64 coal-fired power plants. This photo shows the solar hot water system that has been installed on the roof of the New York City Fire Department’s Engine Company 329 in the Rockaways neighborhood, which was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo credit: NRDC)



Smart thermostats save energy by monitoring a home’s indoor and outdoor environments and customizing daily heating and cooling patterns to fit the occupants’ schedules. This Nest Learning Thermostat uses six sensors that track temperature, motion, humidity, and ambient light to control energy consumption. Within a week, the device begins to create a schedule for heating based on users’ habits, adjusting the heating and cooling automatically when no one is home and documenting how much energy is used each day. Using a Wi-Fi connection, the technology also tracks weather conditions and forecasts, enabling it to better monitor how outside conditions affect energy consumption. (Photo credit: Dirtyblueshirt/Flickr)



A host of private companies and researchers are finding ways to harvest the tiny amounts of energy that people — and even their homes and office buildings — generate daily through small movements and vibrations. A company called SolePower will later this year begin marketing shoe insoles that can charge a phone using energy harvested from footsteps. In the current version, users need « many steps » — on the order of a 15-mile hike — to charge a smart phone, but the company is working on a design than gets the job done in less than five miles. (Photo credit: SolePower via Kickstarter)



To power homes and other infrastructure in far-flung locales, a Massachusetts company called Altaeros offers a portable wind energy system. Their Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) uses a conventional wind turbine blade inside a cylindrical blimp that floats about 1,000 feet above the ground, drawing on the stronger winds at that altitude. The BAT can be used, for example, in off-the-grid locations where importing diesel fuel or other energy sources is expensive and environmentally damaging. (Photo credit: Altaeros)

Reblogged from environment 360