Using tech to make property greener


Here’s how companies are leveraging technology to produce energy and manage its consumption.

It’s no secret, the way in which we currently produce and consume energy is damaging the planet. With this in mind, companies across the globe are experimenting with technology in order to create novel ways of producing renewable energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Reducing energy use isn’t just a positive move in terms of the environment, it’s also beneficial to the bank balances of individuals and companies. According to Business Energy, the average bill for a small business in the UK currently comes to a whopping £2,528 a year. So it’s really in everyone’s interest for innovation to take place in this space, and there are certainly some fascinating projects underway.

Kinetic energy

Pavegen Systems is looking to transform the way in which energy is produced and stored, and is doing so by tapping into a source that’s readily available: footsteps. The London-based firm, founded by Laurence Kemball-Cook in 2009, has developed paving slabs that convert the weight generated by pedestrians’ footsteps into electrical power.

A former design engineer at oil and energy company E.ON UK, Kemball-Cook said the idea for Pavegen’s innovative flooring system stemmed from his desire to find an alternative way to power street lighting and other applications in cities.

“I imagined the amount of footfall occurring day and night in our major cities, thinking of ways I could use such a constant, unending source.

“It was then that I thought of a power source that was literally under our feet: a flooring that converts footsteps into kinetic power and captures data,” Kemball-Cook said.

With more than £2m of funding under its belt, plans to expand to the US, and 100 completed projects, Pavegen is often cited as one of the UK’s most promising clean tech manufacturing companies, but it’s certainly not the only one working to challenge traditional energy suppliers.

Increasing efficiency

While Pavegen is built on the premise of people generating energy as they go about their daily lives, Bulb is seeking to help commercial and residential property owners gain greater control over their consumption and to help them make the switch over to renewable sources.

Similarly to Kemball-Cook, Bulb’s co-founders Hayden Wood and Amit Gudka decided to set up their company after working in, and becoming disillusioned with, the traditional energy industry.

“We saw that people were getting a terrible deal: prices were extremely high, and service was awful. At the same time, people who wanted to buy renewable energy were telling us they couldn’t because it was too expensive. We started Bulb to give people a choice that wasn’t available,” said Gudka.

Bulb’s goal is to empower its customers – which it refers to as ‘members’.

“There is a deep-rooted lack of trust in energy suppliers. We believe that for something as important as energy, people need to be in control,” said Gudka.

Additionally, Bulb claims that for every unit of energy used by its members, a unit is produced and put back onto the grid by a pollution-free renewable source.

Customising consumption

Bulb is also eyeing the potential of smart meters, which will seek to help provide customers with far more accurate measurements of energy consumption and in turn, feed back invaluable usage data. As a result, Bulb is hoping to eventually create flexible tariffs that cater to consumers’ needs.

“The data will enable us to put in place tariffs with different rates for different times of the day that are more tailored to the real energy use in the home,” said Gudka.

The data obtained from smart meters, he added, will allow homes to participate in ‘demand response’, which incentivises customers to reduce their usage at times of peak demand for the grid.

“With access to the usage data generated by their smart meters, customers will be able to postpone some tasks that require large amounts of electric power. This will mean demand is reduced and costs are kept down,” he explained.

While smart meters are designed to make consumers more aware of their energy consumption, they’re still not commonplace and have also received their fair share of criticism.

A recent report by the Science and Technology Select Committee attacked a government scheme to install smart meters in every UK home and business by 2020. The scheme will cost billions and the report claims the government has failed to justify the cost. It estimated smart meters would result in savings as low as 2% and noted the scheme risked resulting in “an inefficient way of helping consumers to make small savings on their energy bills”.

On top of this, the report claims the government needs “to do more to convince and reassure customers that the technology is safe from being hacked”.

Other innovation

While smart meters are being criticised, there are numerous other smart devices coming to market with the sole aim of reducing energy consumption both within residential and commercial settings. For example, IBM and Siemens formed a partnership earlier this year with the aim of leveraging the power of connected devices to make buildings smarter and more environmentally friendly. IBM’s machine-learning-based technology Watson is being applied in this partnership to analyse building data and use it to predict where energy usage can be decreased.

Technology is also being used in the construction phase to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. Robots, such as the Q-Bot, are being used to insulate hard-to-reach areas in residential properties. Islington Council conducted a trial with Q-Bots earlier this year, using them to crawl under its residents’ suspended timber floors and insulate them from below. An energy assessment of the test houses found the robots provided the most cost-effective way of improving energy efficiency, when compared with the likes of external wall insulation and window replacement.

So, whether it’s robots, smart meters or novel flooring solutions, it’s safe to say technology is slowly, but surely, changing the way in which consumers, energy providers and property developers think about property in relation to the environment. It’s now down to businesses and consumers to take the brave step and give them a try.