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Living solar panels

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Admin | 24 May 2020

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Solar panels, a technological marvel. While solar power has been utilized as far back as the 3rd century B.C. in ancient Greece, where mirrors were used to concentrate the sun’s rays onto torches to light them, it is the 19th century that saw the greatest advancement in solar energy utilization. The thought of turning a seemingly limitless source of light into electricity is nothing short of a technological miracle. So what’s the downside? Solar cells have a somewhat low conversion coefficient, with only roughly a quarter of the light energy turned into electricity. There are a number of factors that influence this. One thereof is the position of the solar cell in relation to the sun. More energy is received when the cell is facing the sun directly. As most solar panels are static, and since the position of the sun is not, one loses potential energy. How we do combat this issue? Well… with science of course! However once again we look to nature for inspiration, and once again we notice that we are far behind our green, leafy co-inhabitants. Plants described as ‘diaheliotropics‘ are ones that use turgor to ‘expand’ and ‘contract’ in order to lean towards the position of the sun. This same idea is being used for solar panels. Researchers at the Panamerican Aguascalientes University in Mexico have created a way for solar panels to follow the sun throughout the day. They found that by attaching the solar panels to a mechanical axis, and integrating Wi-Fi capabilities into the hardware, they are able to accurately and dynamically change the position of the panel in relation to the sun, following data from external climate monitoring systems. This means that not only can the solar panels ‘follow’ the sun throughout the day, but they can do so in two dimensions to account for different orbits through different seasons. When tested,  these ‘living’ solar panels  showed an average increase in collected energy of up to 29.9% as opposed to static panels. While this project was experimental, and may not be implemented on a large scale for years to come, it definitely opens up possibilities for the future of solar energy!

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Robot rangers

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Admin | 26 April 2020

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Any retail manager in the world would smile after witnessing an increase in commercial traffic. Not the managers at Jotunheimen national park however. While they might be keen on educating their visitors on nature conservation, a higher number of visitors means more disturbance to the wildlife. While not immediate, higher traffic will undoubtedly affect the vegetation and/or presence of animals in the long run. Quantifying these effects can be extremely time consuming, especially when your park spans in excess of 3500 square kilometers. Researchers pondered on a way to collect data on these changes in a more efficient and cost effective manner, that is, with the use of drones. Drones can be used in various ways to collect data from their surrounds in almost any conceivable landscape. Being airborne machines, they can more easily navigate difficult terrain, like rocks, gorges and hills, of which the Jotunheimen park has plenty. Nowadays, high-end drones can travel in excess of 15 (9.3mi) kilometers in any direction, with some capable of speeds of up to 50 km/h (31 mi/h). In the study, when compared to manual measurements, drones measured trail width and depth with a divergence of just a few centimeters, with no statistical significance between the drone’s measurements and manual measurements. The researchers were also able to use the drones to quantify soil erosion, as well as changes to vegetation. They were even found capable of identifying faecal matter, giving indication as to the present or absence of wildlife. The analysts concluded from this that drones could in fact prove very useful in monitoring recreational impact on conservation parks such as the Jotunheimen national park. How exactly this will be carried out in the future is uncertain, but at the very least, we know that drones might soon be playing a very significant role in nature conservation around the world.





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Artifical Neural Networks

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Admin | 5 April 2020

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Science has propelled the modern world further than we could have imagined in recent years, but this decade might see one of the greatest innovations yet. Students from Chennai, India have used artificial intelligence, specifically what is known as ‘Artificial Neural Networks’, to predict the energy needs in India, and used what is called an ‘Optimized Energy Allocation Model’ (OEAM) to calculate what percentage of each source of power would be needed in order to match the energy demand in 2020. This model, which ran countless trials, produced what would be the most efficient model, that is, the optimal scenario, for energy production. This model accounted for things like production costs, emissions, tax and other variables to try and portray the most realistic scenario. This model predicted that as much as 32% of India’s power would come from renewable sources, to the amount of roughly 317Gwh, or 317 Giga Watts/hour. In comparison, this is more than 5 times the mean of Switzerland’s electricity consumption in 2019.





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