Innovation That Matters

What Can We Learn About Sustainable Energy From Past Innovations?

Lessons From the Innovation Archive

In this series, we’re unearthing ideas from our extensive archive of over 10,000 innovations that are relevant to the times we find ourselves in today.

Whilst the response to the coronavirus pandemic is already spurring new and innovative ideas and solutions that may shape sectors for years to come, we can also look to the past for lessons in agility. With this in mind, Springwise is resurfacing ideas from our extensive innovation archive.

As we’ve previously pointed out, one silver lining of the lockdown has been the positive effects on the environment, with one study estimating a 5.5 per cent drop in total global carbon emissions for the year, compared to 2019. The obvious concern is that as more people gradually return to some form of normal, everyday life, so too will high levels of carbon. 

The good news, which should be clear to anyone who has been following Springwise over the years, is that there is no shortage of impactful solutions to generating sustainable energy. The problem has always been the willingness to adopt such ideas, and enact them on a broader scale.

So, we thought it was worth highlighting some of the most creative innovations we’ve spotted in this area over the past several years, with the hope that they will continue inspiring similar creations and to remind business and political leaders that solutions to our global climate crisis do exist.

For more lessons in business innovation, check out Disrupt! by Springwise’s James Bidwell, now available in paperback. 


Originally published: 1st April 2015

The most ecologically sound forms of green energy are those which would otherwise have been the waste product of another process. We have already seen start-up Bio-Bean turning used coffee beans into energy to power London’s coffee shops and LucidPipes harvesting green energy from Portland’s water pipes. Now, Netherlands-based Nerdalize is using the heat produced from computer servers to warm the homes they are installed in.

Today, large data-centres filled with servers require cooling isolations to handle the excess heat produced. Nerdalize offers a new solution which makes use of this waste product, by placing individual servers in people’s homes where the heat can be useful, rather than a problem.

Homeowners can lease the two-in-one heater/server from Nerdalize, who cover the electricity costs of the device. The multiple servers create The Nerdalize Cloud, a sustainable and affordable computer platform, without the overheads of a traditional data-centre. Businesses can then buy the computing power they need from Nerdalize, saving between 30 and 55 per cent on costs. The same energy is effectively used twice, saving all parties money and creating a much more environmentally friendly infrastructure.


Originally Published: 7th November 2014

Community sports facilities are vital to providing a space for communities to come together and keep fit, but they cost money to run and the resources aren’t always there to keep them in good shape. This is especially the case in Brazil, where the country’s disconnected communities where public spaces aren’t lit up at night, rendering them unusable. In Rio de Janeiro, soccer legend Pelé recently helped launch Shell’s Morro da Mineira Project has opened a soccer pitch in the favelas that captures the energy of players and uses it to sustainably power floodlights at nighttime.

Located in the Morro da Mineira favela, the pitch has long been a popular practice space for kids in the neighbourhood. It’s now been renovated with tiles located underneath the surface that become charged when a force is placed upon them. Throughout the day, the energy of the players using the field is captured and stored as electricity, while solar panels also collect the sun’s energy.

Previously, kids had to stop playing when night fell, but the new system is now used to power floodlights that make the space safe even when it’s dark. The community benefits from extended access to the resource, keeping kids healthy and out of trouble while avoiding the high bills that typically come from non-renewable power.


Originally Published: 24th July 2015

As the search for more sustainable energy solutions continues, we’ve seen everything from used coffee beans to sewer fat as sources for green energy. Now, DB Export Brewtroleum is a biofuel made partly out of natural beer waste and it is available at Gull pumps across New Zealand.

The biofuel is made by distilling the leftover yeast — produced during the brewing of DB — to create 95 per cent pure ethanol. The result is a biofuel which produces less greenhouse gas emissions than regular petrol and enables the brewery to reduce the waste created during the brewing process.


Originally Published: 13th May 2015

Solar panels may be an excellent, eco-friendly energy solution, but they are not particularly easy on the eye. We have already seen a more attractive option in the form of decorative indoor solar panelling from Finland, and now Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel has created a solar stained glass window: the Current Window is constructed from coloured glass which can harness direct or diffused sunlight and generate enough energy to power small electrical devices.

The pieces of glass in the Current Window are dye-sensitized solar cells which use the properties of colour to create an electrical current — similar to how plants photosynthesise. The window comes with an integrated USB port in its ledge which the user can plug straight into. Since a larger surface area will harvest more power, Aubel envisions her creation being installed in public buildings such as libraries and schools — where a huge amount of free, sustainable power could be harvested.

Aubel has also created the Current Table and Energy Collection cabinet, both of which use solar glassware to enable the user to collect and redistribute energy using solar cell infused glass. What other products could adapt their design to make use of this technology?