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Pavegen
Photograph: Supplied

Four ingenious ways that London is harnessing renewable energy

Solar-powered bus stops? Streets that convert footsteps into electricity? Prepare to have your mind blown by these London startups working towards a more sustainable future

By Kelly Pigram. Brought to you by Microsoft
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You no longer need to go away and live off-grid to do your bit to help the planet. In London, businesses are making it as easy as possible for us to get involved – turning our old coffee grounds into clean fuel, converting footsteps into electricity and giving us solar-powered charging spots outside tube stations. These four initiatives are pushing us toward the future… 

Find out more about what's next for London with our Future Cities series.

Bio-Bean
Bio-Bean
Photograph: Supplied

The people turning coffee grounds into fuel

Thanks to Bio-Bean, your uncontrollable coffee habit could actually be doing the world some good. This clever start-up, founded in 2013, collects used coffee grounds from shops and cafés all over London and ‘recycles’ them, turning them into clean fuel that goes on to be used by massive transport companies like TfL and Shell. The UK produces around 500,000 tonnes of coffee-ground waste every year, and if it goes straight to landfill there are loads of problems: the most important is that it emits methane, which is 28 times more poisonous to us and the environment than carbon dioxide. Bio-Bean collects coffee from places like Costa and Petersham Nurseries, then takes it to its own recycling factory, where it processes and transforms thousands of tonnes of the stuff every year. If you’re planning on getting the fireplace going anytime soon, the start-up has just started selling ‘coffee logs’, which make for a more eco-friendly fire.

Polysolar
Polysolar
Photograph: Supplied

The solar-powered bus stop

Polysolar is responsible for London’s one and only solar-powered bus stop. It’s at the One Canada Square bus station in Canary Wharf, and it looks just like a normal bus shelter, so you may have been sitting there, waiting for the 277, not even knowing that the glass around you is powering the lights over your head and the screen telling you that your bus isn’t coming for another ten minutes. That’s the Polysolar idea: super-thin transparent glass solar power panels that generate clean energy but blend into their surroundings. Expect to see this start-up everywhere in London: after the success of Canary Wharf, the team installed the panels into a primary school play area’s outdoor canopy in the Barbican area. Who knows where they’ll be next.

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Pavegen
Pavegen
Photograph: Supplied

The group turning footsteps into electricity

Back in 2009, the geniuses at British start-up Pavegen figured out how to convert footsteps into electricity by designing special tiles made of steel, composite material and recycled aluminium. The kinetic energy generated by footsteps transfers into the tiles and is then converted into electricity, which is used to power nearby shops etc. In 2017, Pavegen installed a ten-square-metre stretch of its ‘smart flooring’ into Bird Street, a colourful outdoor pop-up near Oxford Circus that houses independent shops in origami-like buildings. When Londoners walk on the tiles, their footsteps generate off-grid power which provides electricity to the pop-up – enough to power every shop and the streetlights above their heads. Recently, the team has figured out how to connect the tiles to an app that gives people who walk on it discounts to nearby shops. It’s all very futuristic and helpful for your wallet.

Smart Bench
Smart Bench
Photograph: Supplied

The solar-powered benches that charge your phone

Canary Wharf loves a little renewable energy, so no wonder Serbian company Strawberry Energy chose to launch its sustainable products on that side of town. In front of the Crossrail station at Canary Wharf are a bunch of beautiful, architectural benches that double as solar-powered charging stations for mobile phones, tablets and portable music players (anything that can be plugged into a USB really). They’re perfect for those who need to charge on the go, but these smart seats also track the air quality and noise in the area, and include an emergency call button that’s linked to the local help centre in case of emergency. The benches will feed important data about air quality on a micro level back to London councils, so they can take steps to improve it in the area, and more broadly, in the capital. Soon you’ll be seeing these smart benches in trials all over the city, from Islington to Lewisham. They’re so beautiful you’ll think they’re sculptures, not sustainable seats.

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What will London's skyline look like in 20 years' time? How will we respond to climate change, a rapidly increasing population and air pollution? Will we all be eating insects in the near future? In this series, we’re delving deeper into the future we know is coming, and investigating the developments that could shift the way we exist in the coming decades.

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