Innovation That Matters

Neighbourhood approach to renewable energy

Property & Construction

Finding sustainable and affordable ways to power the world is clearly a substantial and increasingly urgent challenge. We covered consumer-generated power back in 2006, but Dutch startup Qurrent is taking the notion a step further with technology to enable neighbourhood-wide energy networks. Because of fluctuating patterns of consumption, homes with wind and solar energy generators can find themselves with surplus energy at some times of the day but not enough at others. Surplus energy typically gets sold back to the main grid, but as much as 30 percent of it gets lost along the way, according to EcoGeek. When a group of homes work together to manage their collective energy generation and use, on the other hand, higher levels of demand in one home can be matched with surpluses in others, thus evening out the group’s overall consumption and minimizing the amount that must be drawn from the main grid. Participating homes essentially form a “mini-grid” that shares energy internally before exchanging any with the main grid, thereby minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency. To make it all happen, Qurrent provides a device for each participating house known as a Qbox. Each linked to a central Qserver, the Qboxes in the network monitor energy flows in each home and optimize them for maximum network-wide efficiency. They share capacities as needed among neighbours, and can also autonomously turn on devices such as washing machines and dryers so that they are run at the optimal time. A consumer could tell their Qbox that they want their laundry done by 6 p.m. and that it will take roughly 1.5 hours, for example. They can then go to work and the Qbox will decide when is the best time to run it, taking into account their production profiles and energy rates as well as those of their neighbours. Qurrent won the 2007 Picnic Green Challenge for the best marketable green idea that could be developed and sold to consumers within two years. Along with the award came a EUR 500,000 prize, which reportedly will be used to pilot-test the concept in a Netherlands neighbourhood. One to get in on early? Spotted by: RK



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