solar power

Space Music: Aeolian Harps, Solar Sound Boxes and Bitesize Beats

Is our sun a musician? Yeah, it can bust out some tunes if you hand it an instrument -- or devise a way to convert its rhythms and pulses into audible sound (discussed in this Space Music post). But what happens when this G-type main sequence star teams up with another musical heavyweight? Nope, I'm not talking about Jay-Z. We're talking the Earth's atmosphere.

Can I use a space mirror to melt my driveway ice?

The roads of Atlanta will hopefully be thawed soon, but in contemplating an iced-over driveway, the inevitable question arises: Could I use a giant space mirror to concentrate sunlight down to melt my driveway free? In this post we'll look at the Russian Znamya space mirror project, a plan for a Nazi super weapon, schemes to hack the planet and schemes to turn Mars into Arizona. But what about our driveways?

"TRON" Style Beam-propelled Solar Sailing

The original movie "TRON" featured a breathtaking scene in which a Solar Sailer zips across the virtual world of the Grid on a beam of concentrated energy. The new film, "TRON: Legacy" will provide moviegoers with an updated vision of the vehicle (skip to 2:09 in the trailer) when it opens this week. The coolest part, however, is that this might become humanity's actual means of traveling to other star systems.

Artificial Leaf Generates Electricity

Sometimes nature is made to imitate art in startling ways. Consider the tree cathedral in Bergamo, Italy: 1,800 fir poles lashed together with chestnut and hazel branches to create a cathedral with five aisles. Eventually, 42 beeches will grow inside the startling mountainside structure designed by the late environmental artist Giuliano Mauri to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity.

World's Largest Solar Thermal Project Gets a Green Light

Solar energy, long the linchpin of microgrids and home-energy production, is about to scale up big. In the past three weeks, the California Energy Commission has licensed solar projects with planned energy outputs totaling 1,500 megawatts annually. The biggest of these plants, the Blythe Solar Power Project, got its approval just this week. When the four-part project in the Mojave Desert is complete, it's expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of energy -- a stat that would make it the biggest solar producer in the world.

Random Snowflakes: Lies, Solar Power, Slashers and Distractions

Snowflakes are elegant examples of fleeting beauty, each a unique work on the verge of disappearance. But you already knew that, so let's do this white Christmas right and discuss snowflake-related Flash-based eye candy, fractals, serial killers, comic books, fantasy epics, solar cells, satellites, holiday cards and my parent's house. So grab a shovel (don't actually grab a shovel) and venture into this post for a handful of snowflake-related links, tidbits, news articles and distractions.

Jimmy Carter's Sweater and '70s Style Conservation

Katie and I spent a beautiful autumnal Atlanta day at the grand reopening of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum last week. After speeches, singing and ribbon-cutting, we got to take a turn through the renovated and expanded museum and library. Of course the new digs are chock-full of high-tech features and interactive displays. But there's also plenty of presidential memorabilia, including what's perhaps the second-most-famous glass-enclosed cardigan in the world, or reproduction at least (my No. 1 contender being Mr. Rogers' red cable-knit housed at the Smithsonian).

Fake trees are often creepy, or at best, unsightly. Think of the jovial yet unsettling talking tree at FAO Schwarz -- didn't it frighten you a bit? Or the far from disguised cell phone towers with bristly "branches" shooting off at right angels? Maybe it's the foliaged answer to the "Uncanny Valley" theory, but it's just plain hard to use the natural beauty of a tree as a convincing disguise. However, when the technologies in need of cloaking are 300-foot wind turbines or acres-wide solar power plants, I guess it's worth a try. According to Scientific American (via Fast Company), start-up Solar Botanic wants to combine a triumvirate of energy technologies -- photovolatics, thermoelectrics and piezoelectrics -- onto small leaf shapes that attach to artificial trees. The company estimates that the power generated by a 20-foot canopy would be enough to run a house.

With the Vatican going solar and the Popemobile potentially going electric, it makes sense that Benedictine nuns have also started investing in energy efficiency. The nuns of the Conventus of Our Lady of Consolation have just moved into their new home -- a 4.7 million pound ($7.4 million) eco-convent in England's North York Moors national park. According to the Guardian (via Inhabitat), the new building is constructed from local materials and features solar-powered hot water heaters, a green roof covered in sedums to attract animals and regulate the building's temperature, a wood-chip boiler and a rainwater collection system to flush the toilets. If such eco-amenities seem too standard, the reedbed sewage system is sure to impress: Outgoing sewage from the monastery filters through a reedbed where it's processed by anaerobic digestion and flows into the ground. The nuns had occupied their former home, the lovely yet inefficient Victorian Stanbrook Abbey, for 171 years.

The Vatican Is Going Solar

Have all the world's smallest countries decided to go green in the past month? I recently wrote about the Maldives' plan to stop using fossil fuels by 2020; now it seems the Vatican will follow suit, investing in a solar power plant.