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Imagining a new normal in energy

August 12th, 2019 / By: / My Take

by Janet Preus

Every so often I put the “energy” topic on the calendar. I’m fascinated with the idea that textiles of various kinds will be a critical part of new developments, especially for wearables and other small-scale applications, as well as transportable products. Solar energy seemed the most encouraging, with new photovoltaic fabrics and uses showing up regularly. Energy harvesting technologies and piezoelectric fabrics that could gather and convert kinetic and wind power have shown promise.

But something has happened between “this is a great idea” and “viable business model.”

Don’t get me wrong; I am still a big believer in alternative energy and the contribution that textiles can play in the larger picture. I also report regularly on progress in technology developments, novel applications and business growth—in short, telling you the success stories. My issue at the moment is that there are not enough of them. But why not? I reported on solar collecting curtains years ago. We know that energy harvesting using the body’s everyday movement is not a crazy idea. It can be done. Wind power goes without saying.

So, given what we know how to do, technologically speaking, why aren’t more people doing it? The numbers I expected to see by this time aren’t there. I know this is complicated, expensive and, as it’s forging new territory, requires leaping regulatory hurdles. In fact the technologies are so new that standards are just now being developed. (See “Progress in e-textile standards” and “Global standards for e-textiles” on this site.)

It may be true that “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but this is so complex that no single research facility, no one group of entrepreneurs, or even one industry alone can affect the size of the change that is possible. Still, textiles could take the lead in transforming the way we think about, generate, and use energy. If we really wanted this, what could happen? Not just in research labs, but as a meaningful, healthy, sustainable, long-term growth industry.

In our feature “Energy for smart materials and systems,” by Marie O’Mahony, she describes the research underway that could integrate power and textiles in a way we’ve never seen before. She also notes the importance of “multiple stakeholders working together.” That’s in her discussion of electric vehicles, but one could say the same for any of the smart textile products and systems imagined for our future, a point that we’ve made in other features recently.

At the least, I encourage you to take an interest, speak up and share your ideas. Look at how your own businesses can participate in and support the inevitable movement toward new energy sourcing and usage. Textiles of some kind will be an integral part of this paradigm shift that will bring us closer to a sustainable energy future.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at jlpreus@ifai.com.