Friday, 28 December 2007

Getting the Most from the Sun's Energy: New Ways, and a Warning about Taking Vitamin D

Still more snow in the forecast, but it’s clear that the days are already getting longer. Time to think of other things, like the energy reaching the earth from our friendly neighborhood star.

With the exception of nuclear and geothermal power, every bit of energy expended on earth ultimately comes from the Sun. When we burn coal and petroleum, we are simply using that energy laid down in fossilized plants millions of years ago. The trick for our future will be to find ways to capture the sun’s energy immediately or to store it for further use.

Some notes from the front:

The sun beating down on many ponds last summer created ideal conditions for blue green algae blooms, but some researchers think the fast-growing organisms show promise as commercially-viable precursors to fuels, the Associated Press reports in The Globe and Mail.

Wind is basically just air moving from areas of one temperature to another as the sun heats the earth. The New York Times’s Home and Garden section reports on homeowners in more or less urban areas who are installing wind turbines on the their property to generate electricity, sometime to the annoyance of their neighbors.

European countries and Japan are already far along the path toward replacing diesel made from petroleum to biodiesel made from renewable resources like canola (also called rapeseed.) The Globe and Mail reports that a Japanese company has just bought a large interest in a canola seed crushing plant in Saskatchewan. On the other, John Miller in The Wall Street Journal writes that several European countries have a glut of biodiesel from canola at the moment. He notes that the incentives to use the oil seed for fuel has driven up the price, just as the use of corn to make ethanol in the US has sent corn prices up.

Some promising ideas, but we’re not there yet, are we? Conservation has to be part of the equation.

And by the way, don’t forget to take your Vitamin D these short days, particularly if your skin is dark. There just isn't enough sunlight in northern latitudes for your body to produce enough of this essential substance.

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