5 Solar Innovations That Are Revolutionizing the World
Solar power is lighting up the world, and not just on rooftops. Forward-thinking minds are discovering ways to harness the sun's energy in many exciting ways, from the ground beneath our feet to the shirt off our back. The following innovations are shining beacons in a renewable energy future.
1. Strides in solar efficiency
Most solar generators can convert up to 23 percent of sunlight into electricity. However, Swedish company Ripasso Energy claims they can covert 34 percent of the sun's energy into power with their contraption (see photo above), making it the world's most efficient solar electricity system. According to The Guardian, independent tests found that a single Ripasso dish can generate 75 to 85 zero-emission megawatt hours of electricity a year, or enough to power 24 typical homes in the UK. To compare, to create the same amount of electricity by burning coal would release roughly 81 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, the newspaper reported.
2. Battery technology and shared solar untether us from Big Power
Elon Musk really is Tony Stark. The billionaire entrepreneur recently unveiled a revolutionary suite of Tesla batteries that he says could "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy" and get us off dirty fossil fuels. Musk's sister company SolarCity is now offering Tesla batteries at a price point that’s more than 60 percent less than previous solar power storage products, paving the way for more people to peel themselves off the grid.
For people who don't have the funds or the right roof for photovoltaic panels, peer-to-peer solar startup Yeloha is offering a genius solution: solar sharing. The company allows customers to "go solar" without owning a single panel by essentially feeding off their neighbors who do (and at a price that’s less than what they’d normally pay to their utility).
3. Portable solar brings light to developing world
For places recovering from disaster or communities lacking access to electricity, solar systems provide an alternative or a complement to traditional power sources such as fossil fuel generators (diesel or gasoline is not only expensive, it emits noxious fumes and can cause fires). For example, after the first of two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal, solar company Gham Power deployed solar power systems to help power lights and mobile charging stations for relief workers and the displaced. And in Haiti, the nonprofit organization Field Ready is trying to use a solar powered 3D-printer to make a whole range of simple, life-saving medical supplies at a fraction of the cost.
4. Solar desalination: solution to drought?
Scientists are solving the planet’s fresh water worries with a little help from the sun. Recently, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jain Irrigation Systems have come up with a method of turning brackish water into drinking water with a solar-powered machine that can pull salt out of water. It then further disinfects the water with ultraviolet rays. With parts of the planet running perilously low on fresh water, realization of this technology can’t come soon enough.
5. Solar transportation
In the air and on the road, solar technology is going the distance. Currently, the Solar Impulse 2, the first solar airplane able to sustain flight at night with a pilot on board, is making its historic round-the-world trip powered only by the sun.
Over in the Netherlands, SolaRoad, the world’s first “solar road,” has defied expectations and has generated about 3,000 kWh of power, enough to provide a single-person household with electricity for a year. Considering it's only a 230-feet bike path, the potential for this technology could be big, kind of like photovoltaic technology itself.
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Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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