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Power from the people

My Take | March 6, 2015 | By:

In 1979, I bought a house (yes, I was very young), the direct result of an initiative by President Jimmy Carter to promote solar energy use. Designed for passive and active solar gain, our system partially heated a house for an eventual family of five and generated more hot water than we could use.

That technology hung around for a very long time, in fact, but recent breakthrough technologies are at last changing the way solar energy can be collected and utilized. Photovoltaic fabrics and films are an important part of these developments.

Photovoltaic fabric is just one kind of technology that’s rapidly developing in the world of alternative energy; kinetic energy is getting its share of the attention, too. Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) are making progress in an area of alternative power sources that didn’t even exist when I moved into my “solar home.”

J.K. Rowling, creator of the wildly successful Harry Potter books, is credited with saying, “We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” She was speaking figuratively, one might assume; one of our writers, however, applies a more literal interpretation—although he may not be willing to say “all the power we need.” Dr. Jesse Jur at NCSU is in the midst of some fascinating research into sensing systems that run entirely on power generated by the human body, particularly thermal energy. (See Personal power source) We’re talking ultra-low-power electronics, in this case, but enough to power textile-based wearable devices.

The market seems hungry for new technologies that challenge our way of thinking about energy. The growth of wearables is the first and most obvious example, but it seems logical that a buying public would embrace other new technologies, as well.

Still, there will be those who wonder if these new technologies can be economical enough to be commercialized on a large scale. But the people doing the research and bringing products to market believe they will, or why would they be doing it? There will always be skeptics, just as there will always be dreamers. A Chinese proverb offers a practical response to both: “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

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