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World Changing Ideas

World-Changing Ideas

From solar-powered electric cars to monitors for your garden to super-efficient automated thermostats, the gear and gadgets of the future are already changing all the rules.

WE PARTNERED WITH SUSTAINIA, a Copenhagen-based innovation platform, to compile some of the best new ideas coming to your neighborhood, your city or your living room. Many of these are familiar to readers of Green Builder—electric car chargers, auto sharing and programmable thermostats—but Sustainia has found plenty of new advances and concepts to sweeten the deal. We’ve cherry picked 25 of their favorites that we feel are most relevant to shelter professionals and homeowners.

To see a more detailed presentation, please visit our Magazine Archive and view our January 2014 issue.

  • A Learning Thermostat

    This thermostat reduces heating and cooling costs by learning the habits of its users—a task that is too often neglected. Home heating and cooling accounts for about half of the average household’s energy bill, yet just 11% of homeowners program their programmable thermostats, because they find the programming process too complicated.

  • Bringing Sunlight into Every Room

    The Parans system captures the rays of the sun and brings it deep into buildings, weaning them off artificial lighting.


  • Solar Air Conditioning with Energy Storage

    ClimateWell’s CoolStore technology powers solar air-conditioning systems with integrated energy storage, to provide heating during winter, cooling during summer and hot water every day—saving energy, and reducing fossil fuel emissions.


  • Wood-Hybrid Building System up to 30 Stories

    The construction and operation of conventional buildings gobbles up energy and resources; in contrast, the LifeCycle Tower is a sustainable building system for wood-hybrid, multi-story construction up to 100 meters and 30 stories.


  • Lighting System “Listens” to Plants

    With LED lighting systems, including smart biofeedback, Heliospectra automates plant production while achieving longer durability, energy savings, and increasing yield—facilitating local agriculture, while reducing the energy required to grow and transport food.


  • Design for Disassembly

    Over 300 million pairs of shoes end up in American landfills every year, but Timberland’s Design for Disassembly boots are designed to pursue a cradle-to-cradle goal.


  • Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations

    Many electric vehicles depend on fossil fuels, even if indirectly. Combining solar chargers in parking lots with an IT and energy management system, Solbanken is an easy-to-use rental option for renewable EV charging.


  • Wireless EV Charging

    Today’s electric vehicles are limited by battery capacity and the location of charging stations, but by using inductive transfer of energy, Qualcomm has developed a technology capable of wirelessly charging EVs—even when driving.


  • Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing

    Cars are energy-intensive to make and expensive to own, but a new collaborative consumption initiative is helping people save money, make better use of existing resources, and think local by sharing their cars.


  • Urban Bike Sharing

    Hangzhou, China, boasts the world’s largest bike-sharing program, which is helping mitigate traffic congestion and air pollution in the crowded city.


  • Using Big Data for Energy Savings

    Combining mobile, cloud and innovative Big Data technology, Bidgely empowers consumers to lower their energy bills by delivering real-time feedback and insights into energy consumption.


  • Online B2B Sharing Marketplace

    FLOOW2 is a business-to-business marketplace where companies and institutions can share equipment and the skills and knowledge of personnel, making for more efficient use of limited resources.


  • Environmental Scoring of Companies

    Not every company reports its environmental performance. To encourage the development of sustainable supply chains, amee has created a freely accessible repository of environmental data on businesses and organizations in the UK.


  • Green Outdoor Site for Wireless Networking

    With a smartly controlled separate cooling system and compatible design, Huawei’s Mini-Shelter reduces energy consumption for cooling and makes the wireless site more environmentally friendly.


  • Fixing the World, One Device at a Time

    iFixit is a free, publicly editable repair manual with a mission to empower people to fix their stuff and save money—while keeping electronics out of landfills.


  • Crowdsourcing the Future City

    City planning can stagnate when carried out in a vacuum. Nexthamburg introduces community-driven crowdsourcing, engaging citizens to create, discuss, and collaborate on common projects and visions for a better urban future.


  • Power-Saving Electricity Monitor

    The average home has more electronic devices than ever, but with its simple numbers and colors, Energeno’s Wattson keeps homeowners aware of— and interested in—the need to save electricity.


  • Solar Generation of Heat, Steam and Electricity

    Solar collectors follow the sun, producing electricity, heat, and steam in the same system, enabling companies to take advantage of the underutilized potential of rooftops.


  • Generating Light from the Force of Gravity

    Over 1.5 billion people—about 21% of the world’s population—have no reliable access to reliable electricity. Deciwatt’s GravityLight uses the force of gravity to create sustainable energy that makes light available to people living in off-grid areas.


  • EVs as an Electric Power Supply

    “LEAF to Home” is a backup power supply system that can transmit the electricity stored in the batteries of Nissan LEAFs to a residential home, making households less reliant on an unpredictable grid.


  • Making Every Light Intelligent

    Lighting eats up a significant portion of the national energy budget. The intelligent LED lighting systems from Digital Lumens provide wireless controls and performance metrics to achieve savings of up to 90% on lighting costs.


  • Solar Water Purification and Distillation

    Nearly one billion people lack access to safe water. F Cubed’s solar energy technology purifies, desalinates and distills any water source by mimicking the natural water cycle—with minimal ongoing costs.


  • Self-Cleaning, Solar-Powered Toilet

    Much of the developing world lacks sewage infrastructure. Researchers from Caltech have developed a solar-powered, self-cleaning toilet able to convert human waste into hydrogen and fertilizer.


  • Climate-Resilient Neighborhood

    The City of Copenhagen wants to create a green climate-resilient neighborhood in the city’s Østerbro district.

  • Decentralized Wastewater Treatment

    At any given location, the local supply of fresh, clean water is limited. By testing wastewater on site, the Grundfos BioBooster allows for water reuse, and preserves the local aquatic environment within a given watershed.


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2016 Readers' Choice Awards

Artificial Sunrise

Rjukan, Norway, has installed giant mirrors to illuminate a really gloomy valley. The town's center gets no sunlight six or seven months of the year because of its mountain valley location. On October 30, CBS This Morning featured the happy people of Rjukan reveling in their reflected light. Apparently, some one-third of the town’s 3,000 residents were outdoors to celebrate the occasion.

An article in the International Business Times gives the details: “Helicopters flew in three 183-square-foot solar- and wind-powered mirrors, or heliostats, and placed them on a mountain roughly 1,475 feet above the center of town.” Engineers based in Germany will control the mirrors by computer.

Rjukan isn’t the first valley village to bask in reflected light. In 2006, the Italian village of Viganella installed its own reflectors. Viganella, north of Milan, stays sunlight starved only half as long as Rjukan.—Christina Farnsworth