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League of Conservation Voters

What if we could turn different types of solar power into one mega sun-fueled energy source?

That's exactly what Gianluca Ambrosetti, the head of research at Zurich's Airlight Energy, wanted to know.

For those who didn't know (I sure didn't), there's actually more than one way to harness the sun's energy. In super-oversimplified terms, there's photovoltaics, which kidnaps light and turns it directly into energy (we'll call that "solar-electric" for short) and then there's solar thermal energy, which uses liquid to absorb the sun's heat to use as hot water or to turn into steam (we'll call that "solar-steam" for now).


Left: photovoltaic panels. Photo by David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons.
Right: solar thermal heaters. Photo by Gilabrand/Wikimedia Commons.

The long version of the story is that Airlight Energy tried to combine solar-electric and solar-steam into one hyperefficient bundle.

In a collaboration with IBM Research, Ambrosetti and his team started experimenting with aluminum mirrors that double as solar-electric panels. They held a lot of energy, but were also prone to overheating because metal + heat + science, et cetera.

To get around that problem, they used the solar-steam tech to cool down the hardware with warm water (collected from that converted steam), thus allowing each cluster of aluminum reflectors to absorb even more sunlight — enough to concentrate the sunlight into the equivalent of 5,000 suns.

This process is called High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT), which I share because it's fun to say.

Of course, you have to spend energy to make energy. But where the last-best solar panels could convert up to 46% of their absorbed sunlight into energy, the HCPVT system has anefficiency rate of about 80%.

(Meanwhile, your standard residential solar setup works at about 15-20% efficiency, which is still surprisingly cheaper than standard electricity!)

The short answer is: freakin' Solar Sunflowers!

Technically a computer rendering, but still freakin' cool! Photo by IBM Research/ YouTube.

Each of these shiny metal sculptures is capable of pumping out 12,000 watts of solar-electric energy and 21,000 watts of solar-steam energy.

Compare this to regular old residential roof panels — you'll only get about 5,000 watts if you cover your roof in 'em.


The only question left is how do I get me one of these futuristic sun-powered robo-flowers?!

Oh, yeah. About that...

Airlight Energy currently expects to start selling Solar Sunflowers to early adopters in 2016, with a plan to ramp up commercial production by 2017.

"See yourself reflected in the Solar Sunflower." See? It sells itself. (Also, hi, please hire me for marketing. I write great catchphrases.) GIF via IBM Research/YouTube.

But, well, they're kind of expensive. There's no official price yet, but some estimates are placing them upwards of $45,000 a pop. That makes it about twice the cost of an average home solar setup.

Granted, the Solar Sunflower can produce four times more wattage. But that's still a hefty overhead that for many people might not seem worth it upfront.

It's basically the difference between buying a brand new 2017 electric Tesla Model 3 or continuing to drive my dad's old 1997 Nissan Altima. (Although now that I put it that way, hrmmm... )

Of course, a single Solar Sunflower could also be used to power a handful of homes. This would be a selling point if they weren't so conspicuous — we're talking 32 feet tall with a dish area of 430 square feet.

That takes up a lot more space than a slim, flat solar panel that sits on your roof. And even you have somewhere to put them, you'd still need hundreds, possibly thousands, to power an entire city.

Not quite conducive for your the roof of your house ... yet. GIF via IBM Research/YouTube.

But still! Solar Sunflowers! Aren't they super cool*?

*And also incredibly hot, capable of melting metal at 2,800°F without their cooling systems.

They're not the most practical option yet, but the Solar Sunflower is still a tremendous step forward in sustainable energy. And considering the goals of the Clean Power Plan to cut CO2 emissions by 30% over the next 15 years, I'd say we're on the right track.

In the meantime, you can sign this petition to help stop corrupt corporate attacks against the EPA. Not only will it help our environment, but it will help keep the red tape lobbyists out of the way and make it easier for things like the Solar Sunflower to scale down and catch on and make the world a better (and prettier) place.

Find out more about the Solar Sunflower in the video below and get a glimpse of this gorgeous pieces in action:

A breastfeeding mother's experience at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo is touching people's hearts—but not without a fair amount of controversy.

Gemma Copeland shared her story on Facebook, which was then picked up by the Facebook page Boobie Babies. Photos show the mom breastfeeding her baby next to the window of the zoo's orangutan habitat, with a female orangutan sitting close to the glass, gazing at them.

"Today I got feeding support from the most unlikely of places, the most surreal moment of my life that had me in tears," Copeland wrote.

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RumorGuard by The News Literacy Project.

The 2016 election was a watershed moment when misinformation online became a serious problem and had enormous consequences. Even though social media sites have tried to slow the spread of misleading information, it doesn’t show any signs of letting up.

A NewsGuard report from 2020 found that engagement with unreliable sites between 2019 and 2020 doubled over that time period. But we don’t need studies to show that misinformation is a huge problem. The fact that COVID-19 misinformation was such a hindrance to stopping the virus and one-third of American voters believe that the 2020 election was stolen is proof enough.

What’s worse is that according to Pew Research, only 26% of American adults are able to distinguish between fact and opinion.

To help teach Americans how to discern real news from fake news, The News Literacy Project has created a new website called RumorGuard that debunks questionable news stories and teaches people how to become more news literate.

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A mom describes her tween son's brain. It's a must-read for all parents.

"Sometimes I just feel really angry and I don’t know why."

This story originally appeared on 1.05.19


It started with a simple, sincere question from a mother of an 11-year-old boy.

An anonymous mother posted a question to Quora, a website where people can ask questions and other people can answer them. This mother wrote:

How do I tell my wonderful 11 year old son, (in a way that won't tear him down), that the way he has started talking to me (disrespectfully) makes me not want to be around him (I've already told him the bad attitude is unacceptable)?

It's a familiar scenario for those of us who have raised kids into the teen years. Our sweet, snuggly little kids turn into moody middle schoolers seemingly overnight, and sometimes we're left reeling trying to figure out how to handle their sensitive-yet-insensitive selves.


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