Technology developed at Canterbury University by a 28-year old grad student and now being marketed internationally by state-owned Meridian is at the forefront of international moves towards energy conservation. But sadly it does not seem like Kiwi consumers are going to get the benefits any time soon.
WhisperGen is a nifty appliance about the size of a dishwasher that generates heat and electricity. It has been marketed for use on yachts and remote locations, but now it has energy buffs excited because of the potential for household use. It can heat the home, provide hot water, charge up the electric car over night AND release excess power back into the national grid reducing your electricity bill. I won’t try and explain how it works but the company website has a neat video that explains it.
WhisperGen is owned by Meridian which in turn is owned by us the people. Its maker WhisperTech recently set up a joint venture with the giant Spanish cooperative Mondragon to make 30,000 units a year for the European market where microgeneration is fast becoming a reality. Microgeneration is the production of electricity by home owners, usually by sticking a wind turbine or solar panels on the roof. Germany has led the way by increasing the price of electricity from non-sustainable sources, encouraging microgeneration, and allowing householders to sell their excess electricity back into the grid. This is known as two-way or net metering.
The idea behind the WhisperGen was discovered by Canadian power executive Gary Holden on the campus of Canterbury University of Canterbury in the mid-1990s. Holden:
What I found was a university laboratory with wires and gauges and pipes everywhere, and some sheet-metal contraptions to capture the heat. It was a relatively crude example of the technology. But I understood its potential back then, and when I asked the inventor—he was a 28-year-old grad student at the time—he said, ‘Well, my vision for this is to see one of these in every home in Europe.
Just about every country in Europe has regulated to require power retailers to install two-way metering, as has California and several Canadian provinces. Isn’t it about time we did the same? The downside of WhisperGen is that while it is super efficient it is still driven by fossil fuels (diesel, kerosene or gas). If they could just develop a version powered by electricity this Kiwi innovation could start helping us meet our 90% renewables target.