One Company’s Mission to Make Every Surface Soak Up the Sun
By Owen Agnew
Solar power used to mean large, heavy panels mounted on a roof or spread across a field. But the sun falls on everyone—and everything—and as materials have gotten lighter, cheaper and more flexible, photovoltaic cells are showing up in the most unlikely of places. In bustling New York City, you can buy a sandwich at a solar-powered food cart, eat it while sitting at a solar-powered bus stop, all while charging your phone using your solar-powered jacket.
Solar power is becoming more distributed, generating power closer to where it's needed. That can mean buildings with their own solar arrays or, on a smaller scale, clothing that features solar panels.
Brooklyn-based solar company Pvilion is leading the charge to put solar everywhere. Their projects range from building covers to small consumer items. "We're looking at solar as a building material that can be used in a lot of different contexts," said CEO Colin Touhey.
Touhey and his partners have collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to make solar-powered jackets and now they're working on a line of bags with built-in solar panels. While coats can't generate nearly as much power as larger arrays, every person with a smartphone is a potential customer.
The Tommy Hilfiger Solar Powered Jacket. Pvilion
"It's really cool to plug in your phone and charge it with the sun," said Touhey.
Researchers are developing woven solar fabrics that have photoactive dyes coating individual threads, so each fiber is a miniature solar panel. But for now, flexible solar panels must be laminated on top of fabrics.
Pvilion has also designed building facades using heavy-duty solar fabrics. You can see their handiwork in a planned expansion at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in Boston. The building's photovoltaic facade will generate power and provide shade, helping to keep the interior cool. This and other energy-smart technologies will make the Epicenter the largest commercial building on the East Coast to produce more power than it consumes, according to Pvilion.
The Artists for Humanity Epicenter in Boston, Massachusetts. Pvilion
Integrated solar designs like Pvilion's awnings and canopies have another cost-saving advantage—they need fewer materials. "The fundamental idea of sustainability is doing more with less," Touhey said. "If you can span a forty-foot distance with half the amount of weight and produce electricity, that's a better deal than using a traditional framed structure that might use more materials."
If you can install a facade that doubles as a solar array, then you can save on labor as well as material costs. It's the same idea behind Elon Musk's solar roof tiles, which look like high-end slate, ceramic or glass tiles, but function like photovoltaic panels. According to Musk, his solar roof will cost less than a conventional roof.
Solar roof tiles. Tesla
Like Tesla's solar roof, Pvilion's large-scale projects, like its parking lot canopies, feed surplus electricity into the power grid. Its small-scale projects are designed to work unplugged from the grid.
The firm is working on a new project for the the U.S. Army—a solar-powered robotic tent that can set itself up with the press of a button. Todd Dalland, another of Pvilion's co-founders, has been designing tents for the Army for decades. "They're one of the most interesting tent clients in the world," Dalland said. "We're often getting into situations where our buildings are so lightweight they can travel and here's one that almost walks!"
Pvilion is just one company dreaming up new applications for solar technology. Other firms are developing transparent photovoltaic cells that could be used in windows or smartphones. Researchers have even developed solar cells that are thinner than a human hair. As solar costs continue to drop, it's not hard to imagine a future where almost everything under the sun is powered by the sun.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Stacy Malkan
Neil deGrasse Tyson has inspired millions of people to care about science and imagine themselves as participants in the scientific process. What a hopeful sign it is to see young girls wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Forget princess, I want to be an astrophysicist."
As Trevor Noah noted during The Daily Show episode last night (starts at 2:25), the real reason Trump has these rallies is to "get back in front of his loyal crowds and feed of their energy." Noah believes that "Trump supporters are so on board with their dude he can say anything and they'll come along for the ride."
By Katie O'Reilly
Two years ago—long before coal became one of the most dominant and controversial symbols of the 2016 presidential election—Bloomberg Philanthropies approached production company RadicalMedia with the idea of creating a documentary exploring the U.S. coal mining industry. Last spring, they brought on Emmy-nominated director Michael Bonfiglio, tasked with forging a compelling story out of the multitudes of facts, statistics and narratives underlying the declining industry.
The Sierra Club released a new analysis Friday that found that transitioning all 1,400+ U.S. Conference of Mayors member-cities to 100 percent clean and renewable electricity will significantly reduce electric sector carbon pollution nationwide and help the U.S. towards meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
Watch above as Newsy explains that the decision comes despite serious concerns from the environmental and scientific community, and Tribal Nations about a declining, isolated grizzly bear population with diminishing food resources and record-high mortalities.
By Francine Kershaw
Seismic airguns exploding in the ocean in search for oil and gas have devastating impacts on zooplankton, which are critical food sources for marine mammals, according to a new study in Nature. The blasting decimates one of the ocean's most vital groups of organisms over huge areas and may disrupt entire ecosystems.
And this devastating news comes on the heels of the National Marine Fisheries Service's proposal to authorize more than 90,000 miles of active seismic blasting. Based on the results of this study, the affected area would be approximately 135,000 square miles.
By Jill Richardson
Is coconut oil:
- good for you
- bad for you
- neither good nor bad
- scientists don't know
The subject of this question is the source of a disagreement. Initially, the question was thought to be settled decades ago, when scientist Ancel Keys declared all saturated fats unhealthy. Coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, is a saturated fat.