Solar energy is all the rage these days, and in sunny Singapore, it is fast becoming one of the most viable alternative methods to producing electricity, so much so that the Singapore Government has aimed to one day have solar power meet 15 per cent of peak electricity demand during the day. 1
However, solar energy is only 1 of the myriad of ways electricity can be produced. As Singapore does not have as many resources to tap on as other countries, many times our solutions have to be innovative and non-conventional. Solar may be a good way to generate the electricity we need, but are there any other more unconventional methods that Singapore might be overlooking?
Here are 3 non-conventional methods that deserve a second look:
Sound strange and complicated?
Simply put, piezoelectricity is a type of electricity that is produced from kinetic energy. If you’ve ever wondered if roads could harness the energy produced from moving vehicles and pedestrians, or from rain falling on the pavement, this would be it.
Singapore has a very high population density. In fact, ours is the 3rd highest in the world, according to CIA World Factbook, coming behind Monaco at 2nd place, and Macao at 1st place. 2 If you want exact numbers, our population density is 8188.16 people/km². It’s the same as 8 people standing on a quarter of a King-size bed. 3 That is how many people there are in Singapore. And that is also how much untapped kinetic energy we have yet to make use of.
Getting this kinetic energy is simple, at least in theory. There are piezoelectric materials, like quartz and topaz, for example, that produce piezoelectricity when compressed (think walking, running, or driving over these materials.). So basically what we need to do is just embed these piezoelectric materials in our roads, and places with high footfall, like Orchard Road, or VivoCity, or other places like these, and we’ll have ourselves an unlimited supply of electricity.
So is this method feasible? Well, yes, but no. Or not yet at least. Most materials that produce piezoelectricity are crystals, which are quite brittle and will crack if too much force is placed on them. 4 Which, unfortunately, is kind of the way these materials are to produce electricity in the first place. Add to that that piezoelectric materials do not capture all the kinetic energy produced 5, as the kinetic energy transmission from the energy source to the piezoelectric material can be blocked, and you’ll start seeing the complications with implementing this solution.
The key is for more efficient and durable piezoelectric devices to be made, possibly through embedding the piezoelectric crystals in a strong but flexible support structure, so that we can achieve a good balance of placing stress on the crystals so they generate electricity, but not too much stress that they break. Better designs of piezoelectric devices where these crystals are embedded can also help to increase the kinetic energy captured by the piezoelectric crystals.
Give this technology more time to develop, and we may start seeing piezoelectric roads in Singapore in time to come.
Did you know that our country has one of the world’s highest lightning activity?
Singapore gets so much electrical activity because we have a warm and humid climate, which is ideal for thunderstorms to develop. 6
Every year, we get approximately 168 thunderstorm days, and that equates to around 6 months of electrical energy that we do not harvest. Currently the issues that arise pertaining to harnessing electricity from lightning is mostly due to the fact that this requires advanced technology to properly channel the huge amount of electricity that a single strike of lightning contains 7, but technology advances are made every day. It’s only a matter of time that harvesting lightning becomes a feasible idea.
Get electricity from thin air
No really. We could potentially generate electricity from thin air. We’re not talking about wind power with the huge wind turbine fans. We’re taking more in terms of making use of changes in air temperature.
It gets a little technical here, but stay with us. If you’ve ever taken Physics in secondary school, you’ll know that heating is basically a transfer in thermal energy from one object or substance to another, and that thermal energy will continue to flow until both objects or substances achieve thermal equilibrium, meaning they have the same amount of thermal energy, or have the same temperature.
And the air temperature around us is constantly changing and shifting. The sun heats the air around us in the daytime, and a sudden burst of rain cools the air. When you make a hot cup of coffee and place it on your desk in your air-conditioned office, the hot coffee heats the air around it, and the air-conditioner tries to cool the air down. Your body itself generates heat and heats the air, which your air-conditioner again cools down. Temperature changes in the air constantly take place, whether big, or small.
This constant transfer of heat in the air can be captured or used to generate electricity by a device called a thermal resonator. In fact, a group of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has built the world’s first working thermal resonator, and have succeeded in getting electricity off of it.
However, this technology is still very young, and plenty more still needs to be done in order to develop thermal resonators that can produce a large enough charge to power a computer or charge our phones. The model built by MIT was only able to power devices that don’t require lots of electricity, like small environmental sensors or communications systems. But just wait till the day that day that this technology matures. Free, unlimited, off-the-grid energy for everyone, for the win.
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