Recent Innovations, Both Near and Far

I like to read about innovative projects being initiated in other jurisdictions. It’s encouraging to hear about progress toward technological change that will reshape our world not too many years from now. Some of the surprising innovations include cars that drive themselves, building structures that power themselves, and roads that illuminate themselves.

A recent article about the Canada West Foundation (CWF) focused on achievements in these Canadian cities:

  • Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility, which is owned and operated by the municipality, is the first utility in North America to capture and use waste heat from untreated sewage. An insulated hot-water pipe system distributes the thermal energy to new buildings in the Southeast False Creek neighbourhood, including the Olympic Village, where it is used for heat and hot water
  • Calgary’s light rail transit system was the first public transit system in North America to be fully powered by wind. A group of dedicated windmills in southern Alberta provides the electricity that is then purchased in an offset capacity by Calgary Transit. By the end of this year all the electricity used by Calgary municipal operations will be generated by wind.
  • Edmonton has the largest collection of sustainable waste processing facilities in North America. … It is already diverting 60 per cent of household waste from landfill and expects to divert 90 per cent of its waste from landfill by 2015. A key part of the plan is a plant set to open next year, which will convert solid waste into biofuels (ethanol and methanol), a collaboration between the city and private sector that is the first of its kind in the world.
  • Saskatoon’s city council established its own development company, which then set about planning and building an environmentally sustainable neighbourhood. Evergreen includes a variety of housing options, efficient use of land, streets aligned so most homes can take advantage of sunshine, LED street lighting and rain gardens. It is now the most popular neighbourhood in Saskatoon
  • In Winnipeg, the Manitoba Hydro building is the first and only large office tower in Canada to receive LEED Platinum certification from the Canada Green Building Council. Since the building opened in 2009, it has proven to be 70-per-cent more energy efficient than a conventional office tower.

The CWF report concludes that cities that have dared to be different are setting the pace. “Success begets success . . . once it was clear that new technology and ideas could result in environmental improvement and financial success, it became considerably easier to replicate and expand on that success.”

Closer to home, Barrie is cashing in on solar power:

  • In partnership with PowerStream, Barrie rents rooftops for solar power. “It takes some thinking to see our roofs as power plants, but they are there. We have big, flat roofs on the community centres, a parking garage and social housing buildings. There are 20 different projects already … generating a total of 1.375 megaWatts (MW)”.

Further afield, I’ve noticed reports about a zero energy-cost business park, cars that drive themselves; roads that illuminate themselves; and buildings that power themselves:

  • Greater Manchester launched the first zero-energy cost business park will see tenants free of energy bills.  “The scheme comprises a range of renewable energy technologies including 90kWp solar photovoltaic (PV), a 6kW wind turbine, nine solar thermal hot water systems and nine heat pumps. Tenants will save an average of £2 [$3.18] per sq ft on their rent because they will have zero energy costs.”
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan is the site of the Safety Pilot Model deployment project, aimed at eliminating vehicle collisions. Three thousand vehicles are wired with electronics “to allow them to talk to each other and to other parts of the road infrastructure, such as traffic lights. The technology is known as ‘Vehicle to Vehicle’ (V2V) and ‘Vehicle to Infrastructure’ (V2I) communication and allows the driver to send and receive information to and from the environment around it.”
  • Nevada, Florida and California have all legalized driverless cars, and the District of Columbia is considering whether to follow suit… the technology  … could be available to consumers within a decade.”  Google has invested millions of dollars in bringing this “autonomous vehicle” technology to market. Test cars have logged about 300,000 miles on American roads so far.
  • “Roads that illuminate during the night and recharge during the day are set to hit Europe’s highways in 2013, according to Dutch designers… The first prototypes, Glow-in-the-dark Road and Dynamic Paint, are treated with a special foto-luminising powder eliminating the need for extra road lighting… Charged in daylight, the Glow-in-the-dark Road illuminates the contours of the road at night by up to 10 hours, while Dynamic Paint, paint that becomes visible in response to temperature fluctuations, enables the surface of roads to communicate relevant and adequate traffic information directly to drivers… For example, ice-crystals become visible on the surface of the road when it is cold and slippery.”
  • “The launch of a new building improvement project aims to ‘revolutionise’ the UK‘s renewable energy industry by turning buildings into ‘power stations’ capable of generating, storing and  releasing their own energy.  The project, known as SPECIFIC (Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Coatings) and led by Swansea University, will involve incorporating specially coated steel and glass into buildings, so that the “fabric of a building itself is able to generate, store and release electricity“.
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