Solar-powered TVs and plastic-busting boats: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

With news of Brexit deals, MP resignations and cabinet shake-ups dominating the headlines, green economy professionals will undoubtedly be watching Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s every move this week.

On the brighter side, they will probably also be celebrating the fact that the most-attended select committee hearing in UK history was hosted this week by the Environmental Audit Committee on the topic of sustainable fashion.

But aside from announcements and events that could shape the UK’s green policy landscape, innovations that could spark resource revolutions, combat severe climate warnings and drive progress towards key societal goals are continuing to emerge. Here, edie rounds up six of the best.

Solar-powered TVs


The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity in their homes, leaving them reliant on diesel generation or kerosene gas for cooking and lighting unless they can access a local microgrid.

After conducting research which revealed that TV sets are the second most wished-for electrical appliance in off-grid homes across Africa after lighting, renewable technology firm Azuri this week unveiled a solar array complete with a TV link.

The system, which consists of a domestic-scale rooftop PV array and a connected television, was designed to be rolled out across communities in Kenya, where 80% of homes are estimated to be off-grid. The TV in the system is a 24-inch monitor, with the system also able to support energy-efficient LED lighting, a radio, a torch and a mobile phone charger.

Fertiliser from food waste


Around one-third of the food currently produced globally each year is currently wasted, with experts anticipating that the amount of edible food wasted worldwide could rise by a further 33% by 2030.

In response to the issue, researchers at Colorado State University have partnered with US-based dairy giant Leprino foods to develop a way to convert lactose – the natural sugar in milk – into a resource that can enhance agricultural sustainability by enriching the soil.

The lactose sourced for the study will be sourced from waste generated in the dairy industry, with researchers hoping to use it to develop a fertiliser that makes soil more resistant to extreme weather events such as droughts, storms and flooding. Waste lactase is currently used to make powdered milk for babies, but the global dairy industry is currently producing more waste lactase than the infant nutrition industry needs.

Transparency-boosting smart tags

As the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to change how businesses operate within society, several big-name brands have turned to online maps, blockchain or digital payment systems to boost supply chain traceability in recent times. This, in turn, has helped them to be more transparent with customers and other stakeholders as to how sustainable their sourcing is.

Another innovation in the field comes from Finnish paper and packaging giant Stora Enso, which has developed a “smart” tag that can be affixed to packaging to track its journey throughout the supply chain. The paper-based tags use Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) – the same technology used in an Oyster card – to attach tamper-proof information to products.

Unlike an Oyster card, the tags are made from paper rather than plastic. Stora Enso claims this makes them easier to recycle and cheaper to produce, making them ideal for use by retailers and e-commerce firms.

Plastic-busting boats

Following in the steps of Hubbub, which this year launched two waste-cleaning boats made from recycled plastics to help clean the Thames, researchers at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions are developing an automated, solar-powered boat to clean the city’s canals.

After testing miniature versions of the vessels in swimming pools and then in canals earlier this year, the research team this week revealed prototypes for larger test vessels, which are capable of carrying up to four people.

Called Roboat, the vessels use Laser Image Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), miniature cameras and GPRS to travel autonomously. These technologies also enable the boats to interact with each other, with the Roboat team currently exploring whether they could be used to form temporary bridges by linking together. 

Resource-efficient wind farms


November has proven to be a good month for wind power success stories, with the news that wind farms delivered 98% of Scotland’s electricity demand last month making headlines.

In a drive to make the renewables sector more resource-efficient as it continues to grow, software firm Akselos and engineering giant LICengineering have partnered to develop technology that determines how wind project developers can maximize material efficiency throughout the design process.

Called GODESS, the technology collects data during the operation of existing wind farms before using it to analyse ways in which the turbines’ structures can be made more hard-wearing while being built with fewer materials. Akselos estimates that the technology can reduce the cost of materials for substructures by up to 25%.

AI for EV infrastructure


The shift to electrifying ground transport is undeniably gathering pace in the UK, with a recent PwC report revealing that the number of EVs in the UK rose by more than 50% between 2016-2017. But the report also highlighted the fact that demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is now outstripping the installation of charging infrastructure, an issue which has been highlighted time and time again.

In a bid to overcome the nation’s EV infrastructure challenges in a resource and cost-efficient way, Western Power Distribution this week began trialling an artificial intelligence (AI) platform to identify EV, solar panel and heat pump “hotspots” within its networks. This will allow planners to accurately assess network capacity and decide where and when reinforcements will be needed. 

The AI system is being provided by Electralink, with all data then fed back into IBM’s Watson Studio for analysis. The trial, which will last for six months, has been funded by a grant from Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance.

Sarah George

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