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Innovative new renewable battery projects in Finland and Switzerland

In huge steps forward for green energy storage, a Finnish company has created the world’s first commercial sand battery, while a Swiss company has finally completed a hydro (water) battery after 14 years of construction. 

Polar Night Energy (PNE) recently opened the Finnish sand battery on the premises of the Vatajankoski energy company in the town of Kankaanpaa in western Finland.    

According to New Atlas, the battery is a large insulated steel tank that measures 23 feet (7m) in height and 13 feet (4m) in width. It is full of ordinary sand, which is heated to 932–1112° Fahrenheit (500–600°C) using a basic heat exchanger. It has a heating power of 100kW and is able to store 8 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy.

The energy is then extracted as hot air that’s used to warm water, which is then piped to buildings in the local area. The hot water also meets other requirements, including swimming pools and industrial purposes.    

The company says that its batteries can be scaled up to 20MWh installations that can heat the sand up to 1832° Fahrenheit (1000°C). The installations could also be stored underground provided a space of the right size and shape is created. 

PNE claims to have an energy efficiency factor of 99%. It says that the energy can be stored for many months and the battery can last for decades. The company also says that the simple and affordable system costs less than €10 per kilowatt-hour and it doesn’t use any consumables, with pipework as the largest cost.   

The battery can be especially suitable for parts of the world that use district heating, which is a centralized heating system that is common in Scandinavia and North America. In countries such as Finland, the winter months receive a low amount of sunlight when the highest amount of energy is needed. This was the inspiration for the name ‘Polar Night Energy’.

A 2020 assessment by Mission Innovation estimated that the PNE energy storage system had the potential to replace non-renewable heat sources and reduce annual global greenhouse emissions by somewhere between 57 and 283 megatons of carbon by 2030.    

Meanwhile in Switzerland, another type of battery has been making the news, but this time the key component is water. Euronews reports that the Nant de Drance Swiss company has put its new power plant containing a hydro battery into operation this month. 

The new plant in the southern region of Valais has been under construction for 14 years due to various challenges, such as 18km of tunnels that needed to be dug in the mountainous region. 

It is located in a 600m subterranean cavern between two reservoirs and it contains six pump turbines and a large engine room. The plant consists of two large pools of water at different heights. Excess electricity can be utilized by pumping water from the lower to the higher pools, while electricity is generated when water from the higher pool drives the pump when it’s released to the lower pool. The water battery has the capacity for both storing and generating electric power, so it could be key in stabilizing power in Switzerland and the neighboring countries. 

The plant has a total power output of 900 megawatts, which could power up to 900,000 homes. Its storage capacity is equal to around 400,000 car batteries. 

Shifting to green energies is important for the world, but we shouldn’t forget about the need to store energy through environmentally-friendly practices. This is especially important as energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal energy are intermittent. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly hosting option, try out Namecheap’s Shared Hosting plans and select “EU datacenter,” which is entirely powered by renewable energy. 

In other news

  • Leaked documents reveal Uber broke laws and lobbied governments. The Guardian has obtained over 124,000 confidential documents pertaining to five years of shady practices by ride-sharing tech giant Uber. The documents leaked by Mark MacGann, a former Uber lobbyist, expose a range of underhanded dealings. These include encouraging governments to rewrite taxi and labor laws to accommodate Uber’s business model, encouraging Uber driver violence at taxi strikes and riots in Paris, and paying prominent academics to publish research that supports Uber’s business practices. The Guardian has shared the leaked data with over 180 journalists at 40 media outlets worldwide, and they will publish their own investigations in the coming days.
  • EU adopts legislation to regulate big tech platforms. The European Parliament has formally adopted the Digital Services Package, a comprehensive rulebook of digital practices that online platforms must follow. According to MacRumours, the legislation aims to address tech industry gatekeepers, which will likely include companies like Apple and Google, to achieve a level playing ground for companies of all sizes. Under the new rules, companies classed as gatekeepers may have to allow users to install apps from third-party stores, ensure that all apps are uninstallable, and enable users to unsubscribe from core platform services. The legislation also seeks to disallow gatekeepers from pre-installing specific software applications or ranking their own products, apps, or services higher than others.
  • Politics on the ISS. NASA has criticized Russia for bringing politics aboard the International Space Station. Recently the Russian space agency Roscosmos shared photos of three cosmonauts with the flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, along with a celebratory message. Russia claims to have conquered these two Ukrainian regions as part of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. On its Telegram channel last week, Roscosmos wrote, “We celebrate both on Earth and in space,” and claimed that the residents of these regions welcomed the Russian incursion.  As Gizmodo reported, NASA responded  with a statement rebuking Russia’s use of the ISS “ for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.”
  • Hello new worlds. Speaking of space, NASA has released the first photos taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. As NASA described, the photos depict new views of “merging stellar nurseries and individual stars in the Carina Nebula.” Previously, astronomers had little information about young stars and their influence on others. With the data from the telescope, they will be able to increase their understanding of these distant objects, and the rest of us can be treated with amazing views of galaxies about 7,600 light-years away. For more amazing images, visit NASA’s website
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Tip of the Week

Most people today use smartphones or tablets to connect with friends and family. While these devices are great for communication, they require power, and sometimes that power will run out before the end of the day. Since carrying around a steel tank full of sand isn’t very practical for recharging, here are some tips to help you keep your mobile device running longer.

1. Turn off push notifications. Notifications can drain battery life. The more you get, the faster your battery will drain. Adjust your settings so you get only the most critical messages. (This can help reduce stress, too.)

2. Turn off Wi-Fi when you aren’t using it. Wi-Fi signals use extra energy, so outside of your home or office, turn it off in the settings until you need it. This will also reduce battery drain caused by your phone attempting to connect with random public Wi-Fi networks. (If you’re in an area with poor reception, such as a large conference, or you need to make sure your phone has enough power to make it through the day, enabling airplane mode is a quick and effective solution.)

3. Turn down the brightness of your screen. Bright screens use more battery, so reduce the intensity to exactly what feels right for your eyes, and avoid auto-adjust settings that will default to brighter displays. 

4. Invest in a small personal power bank. These external battery packs are a great way to recharge your phone when you’re unable to find a power outlet. Bring one when camping, going to conferences, or on your next vacation, to make sure you can always power on when you need to.

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Robert O'Sullivan avatar

Robert O'Sullivan

Robert has lived and worked in distant locations around the globe and is currently based in the Balkans. In addition to travel, he has a passion for language, writing, technology, and making sophisticated concepts more appealing and understandable for readers, which are talents he puts to good use at Namecheap. More articles written by Robert.

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