- From a focus last on wind energy in January, this month we look at advancements in one of my favorite topics, solar energy.Here are a few ideas to produce solar panels more cheaply and/or from different materials. This uses a microwave oven to heat a compound made of common metals into thin-film photovoltaic products. In this research, multilayer solar panels are produced with 3d printing technology. And atom-thick sheets of graphene could be used as transparent layers to replace metal compounds.
One way to reduce the cost of solar energy is to improve efficiency. As the surface temperature of solar panels increases, their efficiency goes down; as such, this idea improves efficiency by adding self-cooling pyramid structures to the panel’s glass covers. This organic coating could increase the theoretical limits of solar panel efficiency by releasing additional packets of energy when photons strike its surface. While this coating reduces reflections off glass solar panel covers thereby increasing efficiency.
Finally, here are three ideas for harnessing the sun’s energy for more than power production. In addition to producing energy, this IBM design can desalinate water and provide air conditioning. This research in our own backyard shows that the sun can be used to split water and produce hydrogen gas – a potent fuel. And this competing research also produces hydrogen gas from water using wormlike metallic structures.
- During January, NOAA released its assessment of global weather trends during 2014 and as you might expect, our pattern of consistently warming months and years remains intact. In fact, 2014 was the warmest year on record with temperatures 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th Century average; and then December 2014 was the warmest December on record. Precipitation for 2014 was just below the global average. You can read more about the global weather trends for 2014 here and then for December only here.
- It’s time again for Valentine’s Day (ugh, haha!), and in honor of the contrived holiday of love, my search this month was for, “GIS and hearts.” And while I found an excellent study completed at the University of Michigan, it is about mapping chronic diseases, including heart disease, so it might not be what you expected! This 24 page PDF provides a very nice overview of how GIS has helped state health departments get a better grip on the geography of chronic diseases as well as other health-related topics.
- From Montana, we travel back to the Midwest with a tour of the online GIS resources for Nebraska’s largest town, Omaha. As has been the case with several other town we have reviewed here, the City of Omaha does not have its own GIS page, rather it shares this page with its county, Douglas. And really, this page is little more than a placeholder to get you over to their online mapping tool, the Douglas County, NE Geographic Information Web Server. When you drop into the web map, the startup page focuses solely on property record lookups. If you toggle over to the Advanced Map tab, you can turn on (and off) several layers, such as zoning and aerial imagery. There are also page print and measurement tools in this tab. While not the most limited GIS site we have reviewed, the Omaha-Douglas County online resources are scant, and it seems the only way you may be able to obtain actual GIS files is by emailing and/or calling their team directly.
Brock Adam McCarty
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