energy technology

Invisible forms of renewable energy

One of the ongoing objections wind power, Britain’s most promising form of renewable energy, is that it is unsightly and ruins views. I kind of like wind turbines, I think they’re rather graceful, but I appreciate that others don’t. Offshore wind turbines suffer from the same problem, except that they ruin sea views instead of landscapes. Some don’t like solar panels either, especially on older buildings.

So that got me thinking – are there any invisible forms of renewable energy? I’m sure there are more, but here are the first four that came to mind:

1. Solar tiles – Solar panels can stick out somewhat, but solar tiles or slates can be incorporated seamlessly into the roof. They’re not quite invisible, but they’re certainly not obtrusive.


2. Ground source heat pumps – Ground source heat pumps draw warmth from underground and store it. You have to do a lot of digging to lay it down, but it’s invisible after that.


3. Sea kites – These turbines capture tidal energy, but they’re tethered to the bottom of the sea and are invisible from the surface. Unless you were a fish, you wouldn’t know Minesto’s sea kites were even there.


4. Kinetic floors – install kinetic floor tiles, and you can generate electricity from people walking over them. Perfect for airport terminals, stations, or school corridors.

Pavegen tiles

We can’t restrict ourselves to these invisible technologies of course, but not all renewable energy is an aesthetic blight.


    1. Hi Devonchap, I have worked on Geothermal in the UK and can quite categorically say that the latest deep geothermal (or EGS – enhanced geothermal systems) do not rely on fracking. The UK pilot project at Rosemanowes in Cornwall tested fracking for geothermal and they attempted to create a number of fissures through which water could be passed and then heated up as it went. Unfortunately (and not entirely unexpectedly due to the types of Granite which are best suited to these systems) it didnt work and millions of gallons of fluorascein marked water disappeared deep underground never to be seen again. Because of this the latest systems target existing fractures and geological features rather than trying to create them from scratch.

  1. All these technologies seem really exciting apart from the kinetic floor tiles which yield a measly 0.002Wh (or 0.000002KWh) per footstep. Apart from the novelty value for schoolchildren, or an unwarranted warm green glow for people about to fly long-haul,
    I cant see them making a much of a dent in a buildings energy usage (or even recover the embodied energy in manufacture).

    1. Yes, the kinetic floors are usually installed on dance floors or as a bit of a gimmick, but there are practical applications. Pilot projects at the Olympics showed the tiles could provide enough electricity to power the lights in the corridor into the tube station. It means you could essentially take subways or busy thoroughfares ‘off grid’, but not much more than that.

      Floor tiles are just one area of kinetic energy generation though. You get better results from tapping passing cars rather than pedestrians. Kinetic road plates or speed bumps could power lights or traffic signals.

      It is a relatively new idea though, and it hasn’t had a proper run yet. It might come to nothing, or it could be something that’s just fitted as standard in public buildings in future. Time will tell.

  2. Firstly, these are all really cool! I’ve never heard of solar tiles or sea kites before.. I;’ll have to do some reading up about them! I’ve been really intrigued by kinetic tiles for ages though. I thought nightclubs could have them on the floors so when people dance they make energy! Also, I’ve always thought gyms could quite easily generate power from people using the exercise machines.

    On the subject of wind turbines, I really can’t get my head around why people complain about them. Personally I think they look really nice, and I understand that it may be a bit much to have them right by your house – but would a conventional power station be less intrusive? I think not!

    Great post! x

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