The Light Revolution
Health, Architecture, and the Sun
by Dr. Richard Hobday
In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun. Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day. And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.
Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss). The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness. It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations. When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.
What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light. After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight. According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity. The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production. As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.
Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings. He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals. In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.
It’s official: at least one city in the United States has finally ponied up for a wind powered station that will meet the entire city’s needs. Meet Rock Port, Missouri, poised to take that trophy home for America. Fortunately situated near a bluff and with a windy enough climate to sustain a projected 16 gigawatt hours of electricity per year, Missourans are about to get a healthy does of green in their power mix. Annual consumption has historically only been around 13 gigwatt hours, so that power company will also be able to sell power across the grid to other places, as well as to supply electrical power when winds are down. With this year’s tornado season as evidence, I don’t think that will be happening too often!
For more information, look up Loess Hill Wind Farm, the company pairing with the government to provide this service.
Read More about NanoSolar’s breakthrough here
PopSci’s Best of What’s New 2007
NanoSolar has long been a favorite of mine for their commitment to producing inexpensive solar cells with more durable materials than traditional solar cells. They have funding from some of the biggest names in the business world, which probably explains why they haven’t had to go public yet. When they do, I’m going to be standing in line (probably a long one!) to get stock. Their PowerSheet technology, printed in a process similar to running a newspaper press, recently snagged Best of 2007 honors in Popular Science’s annual contest (see a nice Flash demonstration of the technology at the link above).
The most exciting news is that the NanoSolar process has been officially declared cheaper then coal. That means there’s no excuse not to own some of these panels once they come off the production line in 2008. The first commercially produced line of panels were auctioned off, sent to the Smithsonian, used in power plant settings, and other socialy important applications. But NanoSolar for the masses appears to be just around the corner. Keep an eye on this!
Click Here to See Geoff Lawton’s Dead Sea Restoration Project
This EXCELLENT presentation gives you a nice video overview of a successful xeriscaping and land restoration project carried out in the Dead Sea area of Jordan. You can actually watch the progression from desert to a lush canopy of green and edible foods. And to see that the salt levels of the soil dropped so dramatically is quite a convincing argument to try it yourself. Geoff Lawton and his team are genius to have done this. If you are considering doing your lawn with drought-friendly plants, or in converting waste-space to something much more beautiful while restoring the natural balance of the soil, please check out this site!
Here is SoCal, the Salton Sea is a popular tourist destination, as it is a similar environment to the Dead Sea. In fact, like the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea is getting saltier every year as its water evaporates. Given the hot temperatures (there is a reason that all the spas of Palm Springs are so popular!), there is a lot of sandy desert for every patch of green. Do you live there? Try this and send us pictures!
“Ras al Khaimah, one of the states within the United Arab Emirates, is set to deploy the first, of what is hoped will be many, floating solar islands that can potentially produce entirely green electricity and hydrogen.
The project, designed by Neuchâtel’s Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, will see a kilometre-wide array of solar panels put out to sea, where it will capture sunlight to convert to electricity that is, in turn, used in the electrolization of water to produce hydrogen. The solar island will then store the “eco friendly” gas for transportation back to the mainland, negating the need for an expensive network of gas pipes.”
Wonder what this looks like from space?
Solar power paint
“The paint will be based on dye-sensitised solar cells. Instead of absorbing sunlight using silicon like conventional solar panels, they use dye molecules attached to particles of the titanium dioxide pigment used in paints.
That gives an energy boost to electrons, which hop from the dye into a layer of electrolyte. This then transfers the extra energy into a collecting circuit, before the electrons cycle back to the dye.
While less efficient than conventional cells, dye-based cells do not require expensive silicon, and can be applied as a liquid paste.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard this announced, but it promises to be such a big idea that I applaud anyone who’s making progress toward a solution. Nanosolar, mentioned in the article, indeed does have a method of printing their cells directly onto metal surfaces, which also promises to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. It’s only a matter of time. Which, unfortunately, we have less of these days. But with big investors like Google behind such solar startups, at least we know that someone’s on it.
Full story here.
“Late in November 2007 the Dutch-German consortium EcoPower Bonaire BV announced the signing of a contract with the Water and Energy Company of Bonaire to build and operate a sophisticated new sustainable wind-diesel power plant. From the end of 2009 the power plant is to supply the small Caribbean island with 10 MW wind capacity supplemented by 13 MW (bio)diesel power. Eize de Vries talked with Dirk Berkhout, a board member of EcoPower partner Econcern, about the project and its potential as a model for other island or remote regions.
Along with its ‘ABC island’ neighbours Aruba and Curacao, the tiny Caribbean island of Bonaire is located some 80 km north of the Venezuelan coast. During its long history it has served as a plantation island and a salt producer.Today the island also attracts a modest number of tourists – mainly divers drawn to its outstanding marine environment – and strives towards environmental protection and conservation. With a population of 12,000 persons Bonaire’s peak electricity demand is approximately 12 MW, currently served by a set of rented container (light-fuel) diesel gensets with a rated capacity of 12 MW.”
Blessed with both high sun and wind hours and small size, Bonair promises to be a shining example of what alternative energy can achieve when integrated at the national level.