Clean Energy Battery Life

A new way to improve mobile battery life?

I remember the first time I took a ride in an electric car like it was yesterday.

It was about 11pm on a winter’s Saturday night and I was standing outside a bar in Melbourne’s CBD, waiting for a cab. Like a typical New Yorker (I’m not a New Yorker), I had one foot planted on the road, inside the gutter, and one firmly on the footpath a safe distance away from oncoming traffic; my right arm flailed in the air like that of a madman’s. Cars roared by me, some of them cabs, presumably with passengers already inside them. Feeling somewhat defeated after having stood out in the cold for a good five minutes, I took a step back onto the footpath. Then I heard a little toot. There was a cab about a metre away from me, to my right side.

I jumped in. It seemed as if the engine wasn’t running; it was almost totally silent inside. I thought, surely this cab wasn’t idling there all along? Am I going nuts? Then, the cab took off. And silence remained.

Up until that point, electric cars still existed as a sort of science fiction in my mind. They were up there with hoverboards and robots that do your dishes and walk your dog. The stuff of the Simpsons and Isaac Asimov. The truth is, however, that battery technology of this kind is already here. And it’s spreading fast.

The facts

A new study into Nature Climate Change by Bjorn Nykvist shows that the price of renewable energy sources is getting cheaper, much faster than anyone expected. Average battery costs for electric powered cars fell by 14% every year from 2007 to 2011. We’re now almost 5 years ahead of where experts predicted electronic battery life to be. Meaning: easier accessibility for everyone.

This alone sounds pretty good. What’s even better, however, is that investment in green energy is only increasing. According to the EIA, renewable energy accounted for about 10% of total US energy consumption and 13% of electricity generation.

The United Nations Environment Programme released an article showing that in 2014, investment in renewable energy rebounded to almost the highest it has ever been at $270 billion.

Google, for instance, is striving to become a company that is completely powered by renewable energy. They hope to do this not only by using green energy, but by investing in green energy. Currently, 35% of Google’s operations are powered by green energy. And, as I mentioned just before, it seems that this number is only destined to rise.

It seems that for Google, investing in clean energy isn’t purely about keeping our planet fit and healthy, and tackling climate change that will affect every single one of us; first and foremost, it’s about good business sense. Such isn’t only the case with Google. Giant tech companies like Facebook and Apple have been riding this trend as well. Apple and Facebook have already developed data centres that run on 100% renewable energy.

In fact, according to a recent Green Peace report, Apple’s been getting straight A’s in the game of clean energy. It is miles above the other major tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, Ebay, Amazon, and even Google – scoring 100% on Green Peace’s CEI (clean energy index), and A’s throughout Green Peace’s other tests, which measure things like energy transparency, renewable energy commitment, energy efficiency and mitigation, and renewable energy and deployment advocacy. Although it’s not a competition, the domino effect is inevitable and bound to start falling in a positive direction.

Why the trend?

It’s nice to think that all of these larger-than-life tech companies are turning green out of a benevolent and altruistic concern for our environment and future generations. The truth of the matter is, however, and as I briefly mentioned above in Google’s case – green energy makes good business sense.

These tech giants have understood that finite energy resources are… well, finite. At the exponential rate at which we are consuming these finite sources, we’ll be out of power before we can say hippopotamus. It will ultimately serve them to make the switch from old exhaustible energy models to renewable energy as soon as possible.

They have also understood that this new wave of renewable energy isn’t going to come in the form of a single energy source; it’s going to come as a wave of amalgamated clean energy, combined of solar, wind, and battery. The trends reinforce each other. They don’t exist in isolation. As one type of clean energy surfaces and takes root, room expands in parallel for other clean energy forms to do the same.

Another reason companies like Apple are making the switch is because of the potential clean energy bears for their products. Namely, mobile batteries.

The woes of the mobile battery

The battery life (or lack thereof) is a major influencing factor for mobile phone users when making a new purchase. Since the smartphone became commonplace, the life of the mobile battery has suffered, to say the least. Being smart takes a lot of battery power.

Smartphones can barely make it through a single eight-hour day without crying out like a hungry infant for a recharge. Which is frustrating. I mean, what’s the point of having a fancy mobile phone that’s capable of almost everything your laptop’s capable of, if it constantly needs to be charged. The smartphone – a not-so-mobile phone.

Fortunately, green energy might be able to turn things around.

The good news

Imagine a mobile phone that charges whenever it’s exposed to the sun? That’d be great, wouldn’t it? Well, the progress of green battery technology isn’t limited to cars and Facebook’s share of Silicon Valley. It applies to batteries, generally. This means the possibility that smartphone battery technology might also soon incorporate some form of self-replenishing green energy might be just around the corner.

Of course, if one model from one company of smartphone manufacturers starts using green energy to power its battery, the chances that others will follow suit seems more than likely.

At the moment, there is some slight variation between the battery life of mobiles presently on the market; however, there aren’t any smartphones that even remotely rival the less-smart-phones of yore, where batteries could survive two or three days without a single recharge. Today’s smartphone lacks battery power. And for consumers, it’s exceedingly frustrating.

(If you’re curious to see where your own smartphone measures up on the longevity scale, GSM ARENA has developed a page that calculates the battery life of all the popular smartphones on the market.)

Wrapping things up

All in all, the good news is two-fold: This new trend of tech giants investing heavily in green energy is great for the planet and the health of our future, but it also brings with it myriad practical technological benefits, of which there are far too many to speak of here. For us however, and I’m sure for many of you, the prospect of a longer mobile battery life, and even the potential of wireless solar charging, is exciting.