Solar power technology has been advancing rapidly in recent years. The rapidly decreasing cost and increasing efficiency of solar power has set off a solar revolution worldwide.
Germany, which is currently using solar to produce 50% of its total energy, has led the charge, along with the rest of Europe.
Other countries, like India, have made the expansion of solar infrastructure a primary focus.
Now, there’s a new advancement which could end up being the tipping point in the solar revolution: a totally transparent solar concentrator.
The “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” can be placed over windows to gather solar power while still allowing people to actually see through the window.
The concentrator, which was designed by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, can also be used on cell phones or pretty much anything with a clear surface.
Other people have tried to design transparent solar concentrators before, but the materials they used were inefficient (in terms of energy production) and created some pretty obvious tints on the window.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass… It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent,”
said Robert Lunt, an engineering professor at MSU who led the research.
This new solar concentrator uses tiny organic molecules that were specifically designed by Lunt and his team to absorb wavelengths of light that are invisible to the naked eye.
“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,”
said Lunt while explaining the process. This infrared light is then directed to the edges of the concentrator, where tiny strips of photovoltaic cells convert it into electricity.
Since the molecules used to capture the energy are specifically designed to not absorb or emit light within the visible spectrum, the concentrator appears to be almost completely transparent to the naked eye.
The technology is innovative, functional and versatile. Lunt believes it could ultimately become a huge part of our lives:
“It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”
Earlier this week, I was watching an episode of the BBC series Human Planet and saw clips of some amazing, natural-looking root bridges in India.
I immediately wanted to know more about them.
Cherrapunji is a subdivisional town in the East Khasi Hills district in the Indian state of Meghalaya. With over 75 feet of annual rainfall, the climate in this region is one of the wettest in the world.
The intense rains have created a perpetually wet and often harsh environment. Local villagers are forced to cross numerous rivers, many of which can turn into violent rapids during the rainy season.
But the wet climate has also given locals there a gift: it allows the Ficus elastica tree to thrive, giving the locals a solution to their problems.
According to inhabitat.com…
“Villagers in Meghalaya, India have come up with a unique construction technique that harnesses nature in its purest form – they grow their own living bridges! Using the roots of the Ficus elastica tree (rubber fig tree), the residents have woven an elaborate system of living bridges, some of which are thought to be over 500 years old.”
Below is a collection of Living Root Bridges Photos
The construction of these structures is almost as remarkable as their beauty. Since their strength comes from the growth of the roots, the pieces of living architecture can take as long as 15 years to become usable.
But after a bridge becomes functional it actually tends to become stronger with age- some of the older bridges can hold over 40 people at once.
The secret to creating these bridges is in the rubber fig tree’s unique secondary root system that grows above the ground floor. According to inhabitat.com…
“Long ago, the war-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya region, realized they could tap into the power of these roots and use them to their own advantage. By manipulating and directing the secondary roots, they could create ultra strong living bridges with which to cross streams and rivers.”
These bridges are still used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji. Many people believe that some of the bridges are well over 500 years old. Over the decades, many of these bridges have grown deep foundations, and some have had rocks added to serve as foot steps.
The most famous of these bridges is a double-decker bridge known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge”. This unique two-level root bridge is thought to be the only of its kind in the world.
Now, India is taking another huge step in the development of their solar infrastructure.
The idea of floating solar panels is not a new one. India already has a number of solar installations floating on canals across the country. And just last year, Japan opened up its new Kagoshima Nanatsujima plant, a floating solar plant consisting of 290,000 solar panels floating off the coast of Kagoshima, a city at the southernmost point of Japan.
India’s new plant will be similar to the Japanese one, though slightly smaller. It will cover an area of 1.27 million square meters (about 0.5 square miles), and generate 50 MegaWatts of power.
For comparison, Kagoshima, which generates 70 MWs, is able to power 22,000 homes with a little extra power left over (which goes back into the grid).
Gon Choudhury, chairman of India’s Renewable Energy College, recently spoke with Gizmodo about the plans. He pointed out that the plant will have little environmental impact on the ecology of the body of water, and that the solar installation will also reduce evaporation, helping to conserve water during the hot summer.
He also pointed out that floating solar panels are more efficient than those on land:
“Solar panels installed on land, face reduction of yield as the ground heats up. When such panels are installed on a floating platform, the heating problem is solved to a great extent,”
Choudhury says. India hopes to complete the project by the end of the year.
After 2 moths and more than half a billion votes, India’s marathon of a presidential election ended last Friday, with historic results. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), India’s opposition party for the past 10 years, won a landslide victory.
Not only did the party win a clear majority in the lower house of parliament (the first time a non-Congress party has done so since India won its independence in 1947), but their candidate for prime minister, Norendra Modi, came out on top as well.
Before being elected prime minister earlier this month, Modi was the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat.
In 2009, Modi pioneered the country’s first large-scale solar power project in Gujarat, including the construction of Asia’s largest solar power plant. India also recently began constructing what will be by far biggest solar power plant in the world.
His administration plans to use Modi’s work in Gujarat as a blueprint for expanding solar power across the nation.
“We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space,”
says Narendra Taneja, an official from the energy division of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The plan is to enable every single Indian home to power at least one light by 2019. As of right now, about 400 million of India’s 1.2 billion residents lack access to electricity.
Expanding solar power and the clean energy sector is a major priority for the new government for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will help India avoid some of the pollution problems that China is currently dealing with as the country’s industries develop and modernize. Also, it will create new jobs and supply electricity to millions of scattered Indian households that can’t be connected to the power grid because of their remote locations.
Taneja says that if the project is completely successful, solar power could provide each home with enough energy to run two light bulbs, a solar cooker and a television set.
Check out the original article from Bloomberg here. Read more about India’s recent historic elections from the Asia Foundation here.
Sam Shames is an MIT student who had spent a lot of time dealing with a fairly common problem: he tends to run hot while his mom tends to run cold. Sam realized that there had to be a better way to accommodate them both.
He set about doing research on how our bodies regulate temperature. In one particular paper, he found some key information: the study talked about how locally heating or cooling small areas on our body can have major effects on how cold or hot we feel overall.
The research suggested that any change in temperature faster than 0.1º Celsius per second would produce the perceptual sensation of feeling cooler or warmer. Using this information, Sam and a team of fellow MIT students designed Wristify.
The key is keeping the wearer from getting acclimated to the colder or warmer temperature. Here’s Sam discussing this concept:
“The human body and human skin is not like a thermometer. If I put something cold directly on your body at a constant temperature, the body acclimates and no longer perceives it as cold.”
To avoid this problem, Wristify has a 15 second cycle: 5 seconds on, then 10 seconds off.
By sending these regular shocks of cold or hot temperature into the wrist (they are able to change the temperature by up to 0.4º C per second), the device tricks our mind into thinking we are either cooler or warmer than we actually are.
The device is still very much a prototype, made of $50 worth of various electronics and wires strapped to an old fake Rolex band. The team is extremely excited to take the next step of development, making the device more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.
They are also confident that their idea has the potential to revolutionize how we heat and cool ourselves. As Sam puts it,
“Why heat or cool a building when you could heat or cool a person?”
87% of Americans used air conditioning in 2007. While developing countries like Brazil (11%) and India (2%) used significantly less air conditioning than the U.S. in 2007, it is predicted that by 2025, large emerging countries like these will account for more than a billion new consumers.
Judge Virender Bhatt recently heard the case of a woman who was raped by her husband. The woman testified that she was drugged and forced to marry the man before he forced himself upon her sexually. So not only was the sex non-consensual, but so too was the marriage.
In his ruling, Judge Bhatt dismissed the woman’s claim of being drugged, and said that even if the sex wasn’t consensual, it didn’t qualify as rape under Indian law. Here’s his official decision:
“The prosecutrix (the wife) and the accused (the husband) being legally wedded husband and wife, and the prosecutrix being major, the sexual intercourse between the two, even if forcible, is not rape and no culpability can be fastened upon the accused.”
Bhatt has a history of bigotry and sexism. Late in 2013, during the proceedings of another rape case he presided over, Bhatt said,
“Girls are morally and socially bound not to indulge in sexual intercourse before a proper marriage, and if they do so, it would be to their peril and they cannot be heard crying later that it was rape.”
Rather than being suspended or removed for his clear lack of objectivity, Bhatt was sent to a “gender sensitization” course, which doesn’t seem to have had much effect.
Recently, after a student was raped and murdered in Delhi, former Indian Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma headed a committee that made recommendations for improving India’s rape laws.
This excerpt is from the Verma Committee’s report:
“Under the Indian Penal Code sexual intercourse without consent is prohibited. However, an exception to the offence of rape exists in relation to un-consented sexual intercourse by a husband upon a wife. The Committee recommended that the exception to marital rape should be removed. Marriage should not be considered as an irrevocable consent to sexual acts.”
Although India responded by strengthening their sexual assault legislation, the marital rape caveat was not removed. The recent ruling by Virender Bhatt confirms that there is still much work to be done.
Some time back in the 1980s, an Indian woman named Sampat Devi Pal was living next door to an abusive man who regularly beat his wife. One day, Devi simply couldn’t take it any longer. She grabbed a hefty stick, marched over to her neighbor’s house, and gave the man a serious beating.
Not only did her bold and extremely brave act force the man to change his abusive ways, but it sparked an idea in Devi, who had become frustrated with the high levels of rape and violence against women in India, and also with the authorities’ failure to prevent or punish these crimes.
Devi decided the only way to empower women in her home province of Uttar Pradesh (India’s largest province) was to arm them as she had armed herself. Today, the group she started back then, known as the Gulabi (Pink) Gang, boasts over 400,000 members in 11 districts of Uttar Pradesh.
“Yes, we fight rapists with lathis [sticks]. If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again,”
she told Al-Jazeera in a recent interview.
While preventing and punishing violence against women is their primary goal, the Gulabi Gang see it as their job to, ‘protect the powerless from abuse and fight corruption’. On top of protecting women from rape and abuse, the group also helps prevent forced child marriages and makes sure the basic rights of the poor are protected.
India is not a great place to be a woman right now. Uttar Pradesh in particular is among India’s worst provinces in terms of women’s rights, with a literacy rate of only 47% for women and very high levels of domestic and sexual violence. According to Al-Jazeera,
“Uttar Pradesh ranks as one of the most unsafe provinces for women in the country, with 1,963 cases of rape, 7,910 cases of kidnapping and 2,244 cases of dowry death reported last year alone.”
But the grave realities don’t seem to be discouraging Devi. If anything, they are making her even more fiery and passionate about her cause:
“Men who commit these atrocities should be beaten by women. They should be caught and have a tattoo of ‘I am a rapist’ engraved on their forehead.”
The local authorities have been forced to take notice of the Gulabi Gang, and it seems that their work may inspire renewed efforts to protect and increase the rights of women in India. Here’s Arvind Sen, superintendent of police in one of the districts where the Gulabi Gang has gained notoriety:
“The Gulabi Gang has created such a force of women’s rights and awakening that it has brought a new desire to fight against women’s exploitation.”
Jadav “Molai” Payeng is an environmental activist and a member of the Mishing tribe from Jorhat, India. In 1979, when he was just 16, Payeng discovered a number of dead reptiles on a sandbar near his house- they had been washed up there during a flood and had died because of the lack of vegetation on the island.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms … It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me.”
Over the next 30 years, Payeng planted trees on the sandbar, slowly transforming it into a sanctuary. Today, that sandbar has become a 1,360-acre forest with several thousand different species of trees.
Named “Molai Woods” after its creator, the forest is also home to countless animal species, including rhinos, tigers, apes and a herd of 100 elephants who visit the forest every year for about six months.
Click an image to enlarge.
Officials only recently became aware of the forest when they stumbled upon it in 2008 while trying to track the previously-mentioned elephant herd.
Gunin Saikia is the Assistant Conservator of Forests for the region. He believes Molai Woods is the world’s largest forest in the middle of a river. Here he is talking to The Times of India about the discovery:
“We were surprised to find such a dense forest on the sandbar … [Locals] wanted to cut down the forest, but Payeng dared them to kill him instead. He treats the trees and animals like his own children. Seeing this, we, too, decided to pitch in.”
Payeng has lived on the island since he began planting trees as a teenager. Today, he lives there with his wife and two children. Besides managing the forest, he tends a herd of cattle and sells their milk as his only livelihood.
Payeng is now looking to start similar projects in other locations around India while continuing to expand Molai Woods.
Filmmaker William D. McMaster is currently working on a film about Jadav’s story. Here’s a trailer:
Have you ever woke up and thought, ‘I really feel like some bread with cold cuts and cucumber and a side of hard-boiled eggs and sliced tomato!’? Ya, me neither. It’s probably because we’re not from Sweden, where this is a typical breakfast meal.
Check out this BuzzFeed video that shows you what a typical breakfast looks like in a number of different countries:
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is quickly becoming one of the darkest World Cups in history- and it’s still 8 years away. So why such a harsh judgment already? Let me catch you up.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) examines work conditions in countries across the world. They recently released their report on the conditions in Qatar, who will be hosting the 2022 World Cup (we’ll get to how that happened later). Their report starts off with this:
“Qatar is a country without a conscience.”
Approximately 1.4 million migrant workers have traveled to Qatar looking to find work building the stadiums and infrastructure necessary for the World Cup. What most of them have found is more of a nightmare.
To really grasp the situation, it is important to understand Qatar’s tradition of “kafala law” system. This system basically makes migrant workers into indentured servants but putting them fully at the mercy of their employers. Many migrant workers are forced to hand over their passports to their employers, making it virtually impossible to leave the country or even that employer.
The working conditions they find themselves in are truly horrendous. The ITUC report estimated that before all is said and done, close to 4,000 migrant workers will have died building infrastructure for the Cup. These numbers are based on the last few years:
191 Nepalese workers died in 2013 working in Qatar compared with 169 in 2012 based on Nepal Government figures. 400 Nepalese workers have died since 2010 when Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.
218 Indian nationals died in 2013 working in Qatar according to figures form the Indian Embassy in Qatar. 237 workers died in 2012 and 239 in 2011. On average, about 20 Indian migrants died per month in 2013, peaking at 27 in the hottest month, August.
The ITUC talked with lots of different workers involved in the World Cup project about their work conditions. Here are some excerpts. From a construction manager:
“I went on site this morning at 5:00 a.m. and there was blood everywhere. I don’t know what happened, but it was covered up with no report. When I reported this, I was told that if I didn’t stop complaining, I would be dismissed.”
From a cleaner:
When I first arrived in Qatar, my living conditions were horrible. For three months, I and 15 others who arrived together were forced to sleep on the floor on thin mattresses. We complained to the Qatar National Human Rights Committee about this and were moved into another accommodation. But even now eight people share one bedroom, 16 people share a bathroom and 35 people share a kitchen.
From a construction worker:
“Our contract expired, yet the employer has not paid our salaries between one to three months, nor has he provided end of contract benefits or tickets home. Each time we come to the office, it is always, ‘Come back in a couple of days and you will have your pay and tickets’ … We have worked hard and just want what is due to us and to go home. We are stuck now in cramped accommodations, with poor food and no clean drinking water. We are treated like animals.”
It’s also important to understand that Qatar is quite literally a desert. Temperatures regularly climb above 110° F during the summer, and workers are forced to do backbreaking labor for extended hours in this heat, with limited food, water and breaks.
In the last year, Qatar put forth two charters (the Qatar Foundation Mandatory Standards or QFMS and the Supreme Committee Workers’ Welfare Standards or SCWWS) that were supposed to help deal with some of these issues. However, the charters are toothless, with most of the oversight and enforcement being left up to the very employers who are guilty of violating the rights of their workers.
So how did a country smaller than Massachusetts with summers that get deadly hot (so hot that FIFA is considering moving the tournament to the winter for the first time ever) beat out Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States for the 2022 World Cup?
Well, the simple answer is money. Qatar is known for its vast oil wealth, and it was recently revealed that a company owned by former Qatari FIFA executive Mohamed Bin Hammam paid Jack Warner (FIFA’s former vice president) $1.2 million for very vague “work” he supposedly carried out for them.
The payment came just 2 weeks after Qatar won the bid (though this information was not revealed until this month). An additional $1 million was paid out to Warner’s sons and another employee. Warner resigned from FIFA a few months later amidst (different) allegations that he had facilitated bribes to members of the Caribbean soccer union on behalf of Bin Hammam .
Corruption is not particularly unusual for the FIFA committee, however. In fact, a few weeks before the official decision was made, two of the 24 member committee were caught trying to sell their votes for business deals, sports academies and various other favors.