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10 Renewable Energy Tech Trailblazers

Technological innovation is at the heart of Expo 2017 Astana’s Future Energy theme — whether it’s harnessing the force behind a wave, designing algae-powered buildings or creating an artificial sun.

“For the past five years, energy technology has been moving in a direction that is both innovative and sustainable,” explained Ms. Shamshad Akhtar, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of UN ESCAP, when she spoke at June’s sustainable energy ministerial in Astana.

Expo showcases a full range of those cutting-edge green tech offerings — from biomass to wind energy, and most everything in between. “Every technology has an important role to play in the future energy system,” said Ms. Olga Algayerova, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary, UNECE, at the same event.

She also brought up an important point: each country has its own interpretation of clean power. This may be based on its individual needs, geography and/or commercial expertise. In fact, such diverse and distinct approaches are a strength when it comes to researching, developing and distributing renewable technologies.

Here’s how ten Expo 2017 Astana participants are embracing green tech in their own unique ways.


China — the biggest renewables market on the planet — is home to the word’s largest floating solar farm and owns Goldwind, globally one of the largest wind turbine manufacturers. Scientists from the nation of 1.38 billion have also been ambitiously developing fusion energy tech which could power an artificial sun, decades from now. China’s Expo 2017 Astana pavilion highlights its nuclear fusion energy work and important contributions to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — the world’s most sizable fusion experiment.


The sun is the center of India’s galaxy — and its pavilion, which displays a micro solar dome and a crystalline silicon solar cell module, among other tech. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proposed $3.1 billion in state aid for the country’s solar panel manufacturing sector to boost photovoltaic (PV) capacity, with a view to establishing a promising export industry. Indian researchers recently made headlines when they produced stable solar cells made of quantum dot-based inorganic perovskite. This material could be easily printed like a newspaper and rolled out like wallpaper, to transform almost any surface into a generator.


Beyond hosting Expo 2017, Kazakhstan also approved the Astana Green Bridge Initiative which, among other things, bolsters the means of sustainable technology transfer. With the renewable energy world fair site set to transform into the Expo City residential/retail community after the three-month event ends, the nation is clearly cementing its capital as a city of tomorrow. Astana EXPO-2017 100m tall Nur Alem sphere is an awesome visual symbol of such innovation — with its solar panels and 20 kW-capacity wind turbines. A Future Energy international center for development of green technology and investment projects — set up with UN support to boost clean tech development — will also be based in the city.


The World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report rated Finland first in innovation, based on its superior access to scientists and engineers. Boasting over 130 terawatt hours of renewable energy production in 2016, the country showcases a variety of power sources — from wave and solar energies to biofuels — in its Expo 2017 Astana pavilion. With regards to the latter, this year, researchers at Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre and Lappeenranta University of Technology successfully produced renewable fuels and chemicals from carbon dioxide.


Nearly two dozen countries on the continent are represented at Expo’s Plaza Africa. Some of those nations — like Ghana, South Africa and Guinea — have covered such key and transformative concepts as off-grid electrification. Although solar power is arguably a vital part of the territory’s renewables revolution, it is the clever adoption and repurposing of existing tech that is facilitating general public access to such cost-saving energy solutions in Sub-Saharan. With PV panel costs dropping and LED lighting evermore efficient, apps like Kenya’s M-Pesa are making it incredibly easy to pay for off-grid power via mobile phone.


Germany’s Expo 2017 Astana pavilion shines a spotlight on visionary tech — like smart homes, algae-powered buildings and EVs — in its ‘City of the Future’ zone. The country is of course historically known as an auto industry pioneer. Such expertise — particularly in its Saxony region — has positioned it well in the race to produce light-weight EVs and battery cells. In the architecture and planning arena, Hamburg’s Bio Intelligent Quotient building is decked out with algae-filled panels, which photosynthesize and multiply under sunlight — emitting heat. The impressive structure thus makes it possible to harvest algae growth for biofuel and use the heat it generates to warm up water.


Israel’s tech startup scene has been likened to that of Silicon Valley — with a crop of thousands of young businesses dotting the landscape. This trailblazing, entrepreneurial spirit is emphasized in the country’s exhibition pavilion in Astana, which focuses on the narratives of over a dozen of its companies operating in the renewable energy market. There are about 200 clean energy businesses in Israel. Thirty percent of them are start-ups — like Eviation, which has been working on a nine-passenger lithium-ion battery-powered all-electric aircraft with a flying range of up to 620 miles.


In 2017, Switzerland — well-reputed for its sophisticated research capabilities and companies — topped The Global Innovation Index. The country’s exhibition pavilion gives visitors the chance to learn about this commercial nous and technological edge through information on its public-private R&D collaborations in energy use and production, and in other multimedia features. A short film explores effective PV solutions, and wraps up by introducing viewers to the Swiss-engineered SolarStratos, a beautifully designed two-seat sun-powered plane, developed in partnership with Ciel Électricité, Zvezda and Fischer Connectors. The game-changing aircraft is poised to cruise to above 80,000 feet — meeting the earth’s stratosphere.


While Japan is short on natural resources and imports roughly 84 percent of its power needs, it has been innovative and proactive in this space. Its Expo 2017 Astana pavilion conveys a sense of readiness and willingness to approach these challenges as it paves a way towards Future Energy. While the country has recently benefited from a solar boom, hydroelectric power makes up the biggest portion of its renewables roster. In this vein, research is being done at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) to capture the energy in waves. An OIST scientist suggests that if just one percent of Japan’s shorelines were equipped with turbines, this would produce approximately 10 GW of electric power.


The United States’ exhibition pavilion gives future energy innovation a human face. A ‘sky’s the limit’ approach is embodied in everyone from young dreamers to captains of industry like the late Steve Jobs. While the country’s most increasingly in-demand occupation is wind turbine technician, it is arguably high-profile leaders like Elon Musk, co-founder, CEO and Product Architect at Tesla, who are acting not only as ambassadors for their brands but for clean tech. From aesthetic solar roof tiles to luxury EVs, Tesla is a green powerhouse, which recently became the car manufacturer with the largest market capitalization in the US and was ranked second most innovative company.

Solar Tree

Money may not grow on trees but energy does. On Solar Energy Level 6 of the Nur Alem sphere at Expo 2017 Astana, a sleekly crafted tree-shaped sitting area, complete with solar paneled ‘leaves,’ invites visitors to tap into electricity drawn from the sun’s rays, to charge up their phones. This (designed) ‘natural wonder’ absorbs sunlight in the daytime, which equips it with enough power to stay illuminated in the evening.