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Solar Energy and Medical Technology

How solar is advancing health and medicine

Usually when we talk about how solar can improve your life, we mean things like saving money and living more comfortably in hot weather. But today on our blog, as part of our efforts to spotlight interesting applications of solar energy around the world, we want to take a look at how solar is changing and saving lives in medical technology.

For most people, a power outage is an inconvenience which might mean, at worst, sweating out some uncomfortable hours if you lose climate control in the middle of summer. For people with conditions that leave them reliant on devices like oxygen or CPAP machines, solar power with attached battery storage can remove worries about outages. Solar and battery solutions are competitive with conventional generators in pricing and the duration of battery they can provide, are more eco-friendly, and don’t need to be refueled.

While providing a backup to ensure medical devices keep operating is a great use of solar, one of the most basic and most critical applications of solar in health and medicine is providing power where otherwise none would be available. In areas of the world without a utility grid, even basics of medical care which we may easily take for granted can pose a serious challenge. One example is the sanitation of medical instruments. The devices used to sanitize instruments in hospitals and doctors offices are called autoclaves, and they work by creating pressurized steam – but without access to electricity or fuel-powered boilers, standard autoclaves won’t function. A team of researchers at MIT has created a system that can power an autoclave suitable for a small clinic using a solar collector just a couple of square meters in size.

For most people interested in residential solar, the main appeal is saving money on energy, and it’s important not to underrate the value of cost savings when considering the advantages of solar energy in the health and medical field. In areas without utility grids, solar energy is far more cost effective than relying on diesel generators. Further savings can be realized by the reliability of solar energy preventing waste of vaccines and medicines which must be kept in a controlled climate. The saved costs can then be reinvested into new medical initiatives or upgrades to facilities and equipment.

Solar has enormous potential for improving access, reliability, and affordability of medical infrastructure. But some of the most incredible innovations may lie in solar cybernetics – using solar technology to invent and improve on medical devices which interface directly with the human body. A research paper recently published by scientists from the University of Chicago explains a process for creating a tiny solar cell out of pure silicon by making one layer porous, like a sponge. These soft, flexible solar cells, which could theoretically be made as small as the size of one red blood cell, could then be paired with hair-like optical fibers to power devices like pacemakers, drastically reducing the size and invasiveness of current devices which require bulky batteries.

All of this is just scratching the surface of the ways solar energy technology can be applied to medicine and help people live longer, healthier lives. The inherent strengths of solar – sustainability, scalability, reliability, and constantly-improving costs – will give scientists the ability to develop life-changing applications that we can’t even yet imagine. Although residential solar energy systems might be our business, the potential of solar to change our world for the better in all of its applications is something we believe in. We can’t wait to see what future innovations in solar-empowered medicine will bring.

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