The latest meeting of the Impact Investor Club was held in London on September 9th, with a focus on renewable energy. Meg Brown from the Asset Manager Impax set the agenda for the morning with a presentation that contained one chart that – at least for me – stood out beyond the rest. It was an illustration of how the costs of producing solar power have fallen since 1975. This was overlaid with another, showing the corresponding impact on use of solar as a source for producing electricity.
Source: Impax Asset Management
The really compelling message behind this chart however was the context it might hold for the next generation of renewable energy solutions. ITM Power – a founding member of the Social Stock Exchange and a company that can legitimately claim to be at the forefront of hydrogen power – was also delivering a short presentation.
This included news that next week would see the opening of the UK’s first commercial Hydrogen refuelling station for cars, located just off the M1 in Yorkshire, with many more refuelling points are due to be opened across the country before the end of the year. Coming hot on the heels of media reports last week that the Toyota Mirai was close to being launched in the UK, the parallel seems clear – we’ve got the core technology sorted and as prices fall, adoption rates should soar.
The hydrogen is being created using what would otherwise be considered surplus energy when wind turbines are switched off overnight for example, whilst advances in technology have driven the price of producing the fuel right down to levels that make it comparable with sources such as petrol. Unlike electric vehicles, which need to be plugged in for several hours, refuelling a hydrogen-powered car just takes a few minutes, so the only sticking point is the upfront cost of the vehicle. Hydrogen powered cars are – at least for now – still rather expensive to buy with price tags of around £50,000, but we’re now by all accounts at that tipping point. With the Mirai set to be produced at scale by Toyota, prices should start to fall and the idea that the majority – rather than just a select few – can start to motor round leaving nothing but a stream of water vapour behind them starts to look like reality.
Wind turbines may not sound quite as cutting edge as the hydrogen economy, but one of the Social Stock Exchange’s newest members – City Windmills – was also present to highlight its impressive innovations in this space. Rather than using a traditional ‘propeller’ arrangement, City Windmills are built with the blades surrounding a vertical axis and by all accounts they wowed the audience with what can best be described as the simple genius of the design. The objective is to get the wind hitting the blades at the maximum possible speed – locating the turbine at the apex of a roof harnesses a more concentrated airflow, whilst a cowling moves to account for the wind direction and again maximises the force that can be delivered. If that’s not enough, the most compact of City Windmills products are designed to be no bigger than a traditional chimneystack, which in theory would allow many more households to meet at least part of their energy needs themselves. As with the cars running on hydrogen, the excitement now must surely lie in the fact that these products are no longer consigned to the drawing board or the test lab.
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