Solar-Powered Stone Circle Offers Modern Interpretation of Bronze Age Art

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A new installation in the high plains of the Chihuahua desert delivers a modern interpretation of an iconic Bronze Age heritage site. The culmination of five years of planning, Haroon Mirza's latest artwork comprises eight large black marble boulders assembled in a circle, along with a separate "Mother Stone" placed nearby — just like Nine Ladies in Derbyshire, England. Only this Stone Circle is equipped with solar power, energy-efficient LED lights, and speakers.

It’s neo-Neolithic," Mirza told Wired earlier this year. "The idea of it is at least 50,000 years old. But the technology here is very contemporary, and almost, for this area, futuristic. In Marfa, since this project started people have only just become interested in solar energy."

When Ballroom Marfa, the nonprofit organization which commissioned the piece, first contacted Mirza, they asked the London-based artist to propose the wildest idea possible. And all involved decided to roll with it. Laura Copelin, executive director and curator, said if she had known then what she now knows, she might not have been so eager. Not only did they struggle to find land, eventually leasing space from a local landowner, but, according to the Guardian, the boulders brought in from northern Mexico were held up at the border for nine months.

All stakeholders persevered, however, and the project finally made its debut at the end of April this year. It is open to the public throughout the day and at night every full moon for a 40-minute light and sound show after sunset — for the next five years.

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Austin's Freedom Solar donated fifty percent of the funds necessary for the Mother Stone's solar array — which uses energy absorbed throughout the day to power LED lights and speakers carved into the eight stones — and then created a plan to pay back more money every time a new company referred by Ballroom Marfa purchases solar from the company.

"By trying to fundraise, we ended up embarking on this campaign for solar energy," Copelin told Wired. "That was an unintended consequence—a surge in solar energy in West Texas."

Sherren Harter, Freedom Solar's marketing director, tells LAGI the company enjoys the challenge of designing and installing unique solar projects in unforgiving environments, adding that they believe in the power of art to create meaningful change in the world.

"The stone circle project exemplifies the way that art can crossover into life, as it has sparked a solar revolution in Marfa," she says. "The community has really embraced renewable energy, leading to a threefold increase in installed solar capacity on Marfa homes and businesses. We are inspired and proud to have been part of this process and look forward to bringing even more solar to West Texas."

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In an interview with Texas Energy Lab, Copelin provides another example of how art can catalyze change.

She describes how Buck Johnston, a local, installed solar panels at home and her business, The Wrong Store. Soon after on May 4, 2018, Johnston was elected to one of three Marfa City Council seats "on a platform to power Marfa with renewable energy." Copelin adds, "So many people have supported the project through these referrals and so many businesses in town have committed to go solar, and we’re really inspired by that."

The original circle of stones in the UK is said to represent nine women who were frozen as penalty for dancing on the sabbath, according to English Heritage. But in West Texas, dancing is encouraged.

Ballroom Marfa is working with Mirza "to develop a calendar of dance, music, and performance events where artists will engage with and interpret the sculpture." The program is expected to include "full moon compositions that will change the sculpture’s sonic presence over time." The first such event will take place on the full moon at the end of June, though one shouldn't expect too much from the music. As Wired notes, only three distinct notes can be heard from any given stone.

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Despite the technological limitations, which are understandable given the remote location, Stone Circle's impact resounds. Ballroom Marfa has developed a series of multidisciplinary, collaborative, and educational programs "to spark conversation and contemplation."

This is the second movement in Mirza's Solar Symphonies series.

Images courtesy Freedom Solar and Ballroom Marfa

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

New Solar Graffiti Project Makes a Rundown Park Accessible After Dark

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We are blown away by the new and exciting ways renewables are being incorporated into creative projects. In Mexico City, the French multinational ENGIE (pronounced Angie) recently teamed up with Germany's Heliatek, street artist N30, and others to transform a rather scruffy looking sports complex near Mexico City into a colorful recreational hub. The Solar Graffiti project is the first of seven installments of the ENGIE Harmony advertising campaign designed to promote the notion, globally, that technical progress can occur in harmony with people and nature.

Google images of Deportivo Valentín Gómez Farías reveal a dull and tagged up site that was once especially intimidating or downright unsafe after dark, according to Engie and Heliatek. Today the transformed site is hardly recognizable.

Latin American Post describes N30 as a Mexican artist who is currently working on a number of projects in the U.S. According to them, his work is "characterized by using a wide range of colors, linear and geometric shapes fused with realistic human and animal figures." This is certainly true of the basket ball courts at Gómez Farías. Three large walls and even the concrete surfaces have been radically overhauled with color — bright and cheerful pink, blue, yellow — and highly efficient Organic Solar Cells (OPV).

"A total of 111 films of HeliaSol® were installed both on the wall elements and above in amplitude form," according to a Heliatek press release. "HeliaSol® is Heliatek's ready-to-use solar product solution that can be easily applied to flat and curved surfaces and stands out from conventional photovoltaic technology for its flexibility and light weight (1 kg/m²)."

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With wavy forms that enhance the overall aesthetics, the solar arrays are also functional. Energy absorbed throughout the day is stored for nighttime use, powering 15 LED street lights that not only make the site safer at night, but also usable. A place that was once feared has become a beacon of light in both the physical and metaphorical sense. It's an excellent example of the kind of collaborative effort and integrated design required for successful creative placemaking.

“This project is a great premiere. The approach is unique and bold, because it brings a whole new technology together with the work of a street artist,"
says Etienne Lerch, an ENGIE project engineer.

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He adds: "A real solar art work, consisting of the organic solar films of Heliatek and enchanting art. Lightweight, flexible and easy to install, the solar films literally blend in with this art landscape to provide their residents with a lasting, powerful and therefore useful solution. And it's very exciting to immediately see the benefits for the neighborhood's residents."

The advertising campaign is designed to highlight Engie's renewable energy work. The company says its aim "is to work together to develop efficient, sustainable and low-carbon solutions that transform homes, buildings and cities into intelligent ecosystems." They have come a long way since changing their name in 2015 from GDF Suez (which means Gaz de France Suez — referring to their initial role as a French gas utility.) At the time, The Telegraph quoted former chief executive Gerard Mestrallet, who said, "Why this name change? Because the world of energy is changing, we're moving towards a less centralised, less carbon-intensive energy world, away from the centralised world of yesterday".

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Thibaud Le Séguillon, Heliatek CEO, says their company was proud to work with ENGIE on the Solar Graffiti campaign, bringing "decentralized, decarbonized power generation to the city centers.”

Still quite new — the project was unveiled in early May — it may be too soon to evaluate its social impact. But visually, it's a slam dunk!

All images © Leonardo Medina Ruiz; ENGIE

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

The Key to Successful Placemaking: Integrated Design and Community Collaboration

The winners of the LAGI Willimantic design competition in Connecticut credit, in large measure, their engagement with the local community for developing their winning proposal. Laura Pirie from Pirie Associates describes how her team spent over 20 hours talking to members of the community to better understand their needs and vision for a riverfront placemaking project initiated by the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership (WWP). The non-profit organization has spent more than a decade transforming a 3.4-acre downtown brownfield site along the Willimantic river into a new recreational facility—but eventually they realized they couldn't do it alone.

In order to advance their goals, WWP involved the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) and the State of Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). In turn, Kristina Newman-Scott, Director of Culture in the Office of the Arts & Historic Preservation at DECD, brought on board Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry with the Land Art Generator Initiative. Pirie calls this collaboration a "powerhouse of stakeholders."

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Together they launched the LAGI Willimantic design competition to create what Pirie says is more than just a recreational park facility. Instead, she says, the project "brings hope and development and a focus to the future of Willimantic."

Why does this matter? Until recently, Willimantic—which is part of Windham—has been struggling to reinvent itself since the textile industry moved south with the American Thread Company's 1985 closure. With its main revenue source gone, the community has gone through dark times. In 2002, the Hartford Courant newspaper reported an uptick in heroin use. Still, while the past shapes our present, it certainly doesn't define our future. With this in mind, Willimantic has taken several progressive steps to ensure a creative new future for this post-industrial community—and developing an energy-generating public art is one of them.

LAGI co-founders, Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry, say they are delighted that the Willimantic community has embraced the idea of regenerative infrastructure.

"The project shows how in the 21st century we are embracing a new paradigm for development that weaves together multiple systems in one place: public art and culture, sustainable energy generation, recreational riverfront park for people, educational venue, river conservation, and habitat protection. An interdisciplinary design approach and a shared use of land can lead to outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts to create lasting social and environmental value. This new kind of place can be a catalyst for regional growth and a model for surrounding communities."

After meeting residents over breakfast, at the library, and even talking to Santa at the mall before Christmas, Pirie says, "...it's in hearing those voices that we could actually then act on behalf of the community to create a solution that brought not only this general idea of healing to the site, but their specific design for healing and for community."

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Their resulting proposal, Rio Iluminado, has two main purposes, according to Pirie Associates. One, "to connect people to the river and to each other." And then, on a more practical level, "to generate energy in a demonstrative and beautiful way."

Pirie Associates says their design has four physical components: the River Well, the Spiral Channel, the River Platform, and the Solar Arch.

The River Well draws underground water through a submersible well pump that is powered by solar energy. Located in a proposed Tree Copse located on a part of the site that has never before been developed, this aspect of the design represents healing decades of industrial use.

The Spiral Channel takes the water from the River Well to the River Platform, according to Pirie Associates. Those people who aren't able for whatever reason to engage with the whitewater or surrounding trails can still connect with the river through this channel, which encourages interaction — whether it's splashing around or sitting on the low concrete edges.

The Spiral Channel travels to a 3400-square-foot concrete slab, the River Platform. Here visitors can learn about the site's riparian species, and observe how much water flows from the River Well (depending in part on how much solar energy is being generated). In winter, this platform can be used to create an ice-skating surface—making the park fun and accessible year-round.

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Finally, a splashy centerpiece: the Solar Arch. Covered in a 900 sq. ft. solar array, this shimmering work of public art is capable of producing around 25.5 MWh of clean energy annually. "The surface is shaped specifically to reflect, overlay, and merge the river, the River Platform, the people, the site, and downtown beyond," writes Pirie Associates.

"The purpose of the reflective surface is poetic and playful: it’s meant to simultaneously capture the river, the site activities, and the city in one “parallaxical” composition, superimposing and joining the LIFE of the area into one active, changing mural of connection."

Now in the midst of the project's second phase, the Rio Iluminado team is currently developing their design for production. Pending funding, the third phase would see the project's ultimate construction. For more detailed information about the design process, head over to Pirie Associates.

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Wind and Solar-Powered Biodomes to Boost UAE Ecotourism

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Baharash Bagherian has unveiled his design for a new wildlife conservation center that will be 100% powered by renewable energy. The project's first phase would entail construction of three prefabricated biodomes with timber frames and Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) and a gateway building housing all of the site's energy and waste management infrastructure.

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With the UAE expecting to attract 45 million visitors by 2021, a number Bagherian says could place extreme pressure on the country's natural systems, he promotes a new kind of tourism that not only mitigates pollution and other forms of environmental destruction, but also gives back.

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This is one of several projects he is working on with Eco Resort Group, which states as one of its goals a plan to turn the UAE's growing tourism industry into a green economy. "Our eco resorts will provide more than environmental benefits, such as economic and socio-cultural benefits. Our eco resorts will create job opportunities for locals, creating a more diversified economy," they write. "They will also help preserve the regions heritage and provide greater interaction with native people."

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For now, according to Bagherian, the project is potentially slated for a site in Ras al Khaimah, in the Al Hajar mountains. One dome would house a reception area, another a restaurant that serves locally-produced organic food, while the third would comprise an amphitheater and conservation center. Here biologists will educate visitors about biodiversity and other environmental topics. In addition to making a great destination for tourists, Bagherian says the center would also welcome school visits.

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"If you integrate renewables with a design, I think from a very young age children will be more in touch with sustainability," he says. For him, education is one of the most exciting aspects of the conservation center. "I think we need to do more of that in the United Arab Emirates."

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As conceived, the biodomes would be powered by a mixture of solar and wind energy, ensuring its self-sufficiency and offsetting carbon emissions. But the project's "green" credentials transcend clean energy production. In addition to recycling grey water for use in irrigation (very important in such a water scarce country that relies almost entirely on energy-intensive desalination for its water), management will handle all waste on site — including recycling. This is also important, since recycling is still quite nascent in the UAE.

The firm says using prefabricated components minimizes disruption to the site and allows for fast assembly. The biodomes will also be designed to provide passive cooling, reducing their energy load, while bioclimatic indoor environments "will provide visitors with thermal comfort, restorative and therapeutic benefits."

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For phase two of the project, the design team envisions a wilderness retreat that would surround the biodomes — which would accommodate longer stays. Bagherian says in order for any development to be truly sustainable, it also has to be commercially viable, although sometimes convincing developers of the importance of sustainability and incorporating renewables can be tricky,

"Usually when you meet a developer, they're not really into sustainability," he says. In order to get them to see his way of thinking, he encourages developers not to think about the building itself, but the experience — the heart of the project.

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He adds that his firm likes to make renewable energy a more visible feature because it helps to educate people, giving them a direct visual connection.

"I actually think that could almost become the heart."

All images via Baharash Architecture

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

How Regenerative Art Can Help Australia Kick Fossil Fuels

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Change can be hard—even at the individual level. Like taking my reusable bags to the grocery store. I regularly forget them, even though I loathe plastic bags. And I still can’t get through a day on a single cup of coffee. So it’s easy to understand the challenge of mobilizing an entire country to embrace sweeping change.

Behavioral change. Policy change. Systemic change that—despite being difficult at first—will ultimately benefit all species who share space on this hot spinning ball we call Earth. None of it is easy, but when it comes to addressing climate change, it is necessary. Every living being will be touched if carbon emissions are left unchecked. So we must be prepared to put in the time and the energy to avert our global course. This may sound uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be.

For the purpose of this piece (which will soon become clear), let me zoom in for a moment on Australia. Despite taking several important steps to incorporate more variable renewable energy sources into the country’s overall mix—and reduce energy waste—Australia is struggling to alter its generation and consumption habits.

Between 2006 and 2016, Australia reduced its coal use by 10 percent, substituting to some extent with natural gas. Gas use has increased by 70% in the last decade. And despite the fact that wind and solar energy combined contribute just 1.5% of the country’s total primary energy supply, the IEA reports that Australia has the “highest national penetration of solar PV installations per household” of all its member countries.

Further evidence that the political will exists to put itself on a healthier trajectory, the Commonwealth of Australia has launched a slew of new agencies to explore possible routes to achieving their Paris Agreement commitment of cutting up to 28 percent of carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, without compromising energy security. But it is clear that Australia, like me, needs to keep chipping away at its habits.

The new National Energy Guarantee (NEG) designed to reduce emissions and improve reliability targets was a source of hope for the IEA in their report, but now that it has been waived through for a final decision in August, others say it will stifle renewables.

John Grimes, CEO of the Smart Energy Council, told PV Tech the NEG will be “locked in for the decade with no review process or opportunity for states to bargain, while its future will be under the sole authority of the federal energy minister.” He added that “individual states will also no longer be able to carry out their own additional renewable energy programs alongside the central targets.”

 LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, energy-generating art, public art, renewable energy, green design, art for climate change, Light Sanctuary

Restricting renewables now would be a terrible shame. Especially since a new Plan to Repower Australia prepared by the Community Power Agency on behalf of two million Australian citizens paves the path for an alternative future lined with, among other things, clean air, healthy jobs, and economic abundance. Officially released on May 3, 2018 by activist Bill McKibben, the report provides a blueprint for Australia to achieve 100% clean energy by 2030.

Lead author and director of the Community Power Agency, Nicky Ison said in a press release marking the plan’s launch, “Australia has some of the best wind and solar resources in the world and technical capacity to meet its electricity needs with 100% clean energy by 2030, so let’s get on with it!”

Outlining specific steps Australia can and should take to evolve its energy mix, the plan reveals three overarching goals: Rewrite the Rules, Repower the Country (by “turbocharging existing clean energy policies”) and Replace the Polluters.

McKibben said, “This report shows that civil society organizations continue to lead; formulating a plan that matches the scale of the challenge and the opportunity we are facing.” Which finally brings us to the purpose I promised earlier.

While the plan describes the “culture of the entire electricity system,” something that is “inflexible, backwardlooking and neglects the needs and desires of ordinary citizens,” it does not describe how the arts can get people excited about changing the existing energy culture. So we humbly offer a solution.

For the last decade, the non-profit Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) has held a biennial design competition that invites people from around the world to envision site-specific, large-scale works of public art that also generate clean energy—at the utility scale.

Working with urban planners, policymakers, community organizations and others in cities as far afield and contextually diverse as Abu Dhabi, Copenhagen and Santa Monica in California, we have curated over 1,000 designs that incorporate cutting-edge, yet feasible renewable energy technologies that can power, in some cases, hundreds of homes.

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Others can produce clean drinking water without the harmful byproducts of conventional desalination. Some designs are capable of both. Technologies explored over the years include everything from algae as biofuel to thin-film solar and bladeless wind turbines. Each design is uniquely educational, playful, and utilitarian. But most importantly? They are beautiful.

You might be thinking that we don’t have the luxury to talk about beauty, but we argue that we don’t have the luxury to neglect it.

LAGI co-directors Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry say land art generators are appealing on so many different levels, they can generate the kind of motivation necessary to catalyze meaningful change.

“Whitepapers, strategic plans, and 100% WWS (wind, water, sunlight) plans for every state will not save the world,” they said, “if we don't have a critical mass of the general public rallying behind every new law that is well-designed to result in a habitable planet seven generations out.”

This year, sponsored and hosted by the State of Victoria, LAGI 2018 came to Melbourne. The design brief was crafted closely with the City of Port Phillip, Carbon Arts, and other partners, and the competition closed on May 6, receiving hundreds of inspiring submissions for public works of art that could—if built—make St Kilda Triangle the talk of the entire world. A LAGI design on this waterfront site could increase foot traffic, spark socioeconomic development, demonstrate how to weave clean energy installations into the urban fabric, and, yes, generate emissions-free electricity.

LAGI comprises a small part of Action 13 of the Victoria State Renewable Energy Action Plan, “Supporting important artistic and cultural sustainability events.” Setting an example for the world, the State is shooting for zero carbon emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, Melbourne is targeting net-zero by 2020.

We hope the Commonwealth will double down on its commitment to renewables after seeing the LAGI 2018 City of Port Phillip designs. They paint a vivid picture of how exhilarating our future will be once we kick our dependence on fossil fuels once and for all.

LAGI 2018 designs will be released through the LAGI website from July to September and the winners will be announced on October 11, 2018 at Fed Square in Melbourne.

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Solar Tree 2.0: Design World Giant Unveils Next Generation Street Light

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Solar street lighting just got a lot smarter. Designed by Ross Lovegrove, a giant in the art and design world who calls the intersection of Design, Nature, and Art the "DNA of our times", Solar Tree 2.0 improves upon the original Solar Tree designed about a decade ago for the Museum for Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna. In keeping with the latest advances not only in solar technology but also smart technologies that allow more efficient energy use, the new, modular design has a suite of impressive features.

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Lovegrove calls Solar Tree 2.0 a "family of modular solutions" with variable post heights and heads. This modularity allows flexibility in urban spaces. As the diagram shows, in cases where overhead transmission lines are particularly low, the post height can be adjusted as necessary. And different settings might require different moods, which is why the family now includes two "optical solutions": The 35W Solar Tree 2.0 Street Light and the 23W Solar Tree 2.0 Urban Social Light. The larger head is capable of incorporating solar cells for harvesting energy from the. And both "can be integrated with high-tech tools to allow measurement of various control parameters and open data exchange with multiple applications," according to the design brief.

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In addition to varying "light emission qualities", Solar Tree 2.0 incorporates new technology that mitigates energy waste — and allows for easy monitoring. Some of these new technologies include a presence sensor, GSM communication, induction wireless recharge, LiFi and connection to a Smart Grid — all of which can be managed remotely. In addition, according to Lovegrove's design brief, Solar Tree 2.0 is designed with "CCTV predisposition". Maybe that's a good thing for security in some areas. But some people may be concerned with potential privacy concerns.

The Head and joints are made with aluminum, the pole is iron and the head cover is made with plastic material. Lovegrove calls these flexible configurations "functional, interactive, and energy-smart...," promoting "a new sustainable and social dimension for the city and for mankind."

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Of the original design, he wrote: "The SOLAR TREES communicate more than light... they communicate the trust of placing beautifully made, complex natural forms outside for the benefit of all of society becoming a museum that if folded inside out, the museum as an incubator of change in society... and with this the promotion of environmental science and the joy of the new aesthetics made possible by the digital process."

It is this kind of thinking, this longstanding attention to sustainable design — flirting with material science, cutting-edge clean energy technologies, and art — that sets Lovegrove apart from many of his peers. Way ahead of his time, the Welsh artist and industrial designer aims to stimulate "a profound change in the physicality of our three dimensional world."

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Born in Cardiff in 1958, and a Royal College of Art graduate, Lovegrove has worked with other design world giants such as Jean Nouvel and Phillipe Starck, with a repertoire stacked with commissions for companies like Airbus, Peugeot. Meanwhile, his art has been exhibited in some of the world's most prestigious venues, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Guggenheim Museum.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth retrospective of his visionary career.

All images via Ross Lovegrove

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Groundbreaking Solar-Powered Desalination That Doesn’t Require Batteries

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A company in France has developed standalone solar-powered desalination technology that doesn't require batteries — a world first, they say. Named after a city in Algeria, where one of its founders grew up drinking brackish water, Mascara Renewable Water has implemented their technology in several water scarce areas, including Abu Dhabi and Bora Bora, French Polynesia. And new systems are also heading to Mozambique's Gaza Province and to Cape Town, which made world headlines this year for coming dangerously close to completely running out of water. As five billion people are expected to face similar shortages by 2050, according to the UN, OSMOSUN is more welcome than ever.

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In addition to reaching far-flung places that lack access to the energy grid, the battery-free solar-powered desalination unit mitigates two main challenges associated with conventional desalination plants: high energy consumption — which in turns drives further greenhouse gas emissions — and harmful discharge of hyper-saline brine. According to PRI, most reverse osmosis plants use up to 10 kilowatt-hours of energy to desalinate one cubic meter of freshwater, compared to traditional drinking water treatment plants, which usually use less than 1 kWh per cubic meter. In Abu Dhabi, according to a report produced by Masdar Clean Energy, the desalination sector contributes an estimated 22 percent of Abu Dhabi's overall carbon dioxide emissions.

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Meanwhile, the brine, a byproduct of desalination that is typically pumped back into the water source, can be detrimental to marine ecosystems. Speaking to ABC in Australia, Professor Nick Ashbolt, Head of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales, says, "The brine generated as a wastewater during desalination is heavier than seawater, so if incorrectly discharged to the ocean would sink to the bottom." In addition, he says, the desalination strips the brine of dissolved oxygen. "If it is released into calm water it can sink to the bottom as a plume of salty water that can kill organisms on the sea bed from a lack of oxygen."

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This won't happen with Mascara Renewable Water technology, according to Maxime Therrillion. Responsible for the company's business development, he says they minimize the salinity of the brine in order to reduce its environmental impact. He also says that through Masdar's pilot project in Ghantoot, OSMOSUN demonstrated the capacity to use just 2.5 kWh per cubic meter — with zero harmful carbon emissions. "Masdar was the first to offer Mascara Renewable Water the chance to test and validate its innovative solar desalination technology through its Renewable Energy Desalination Programme in Ghantoot," CEO Mark Vergnet says in the report. "Without Masdar’s trust and support, Mascara would have taken many more years to prove and gain credibility for its OSMOSUN® technology. The validation by Masdar of the unique performance of OSMOSUN® enabled Mascara to sign its first orders in 2017."

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Now, they are gaining steam. Using reverse osmosis technology with a flexible membrane that can cope with fluctuations in energy (necessary since solar isn't always perfectly consistent), OSMOSUN is capable of converting up to 10 000 m3 of sea water into fresh water in a day. Slightly modified, it can also convert up to 500 m3 per day of brackish water into fresh drinking water. Lastly, the company's NANOSUN technology takes on contaminated water, using proven nanotechnology to remove pollutants like arsenic. This modular standalone system has a daily production capacity of up to 500m3 per day per unit. How do you figure out what system you'll need? That's part of the package.

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Mascara Renewable Water provides a turnkey service, meaning they evaluate each site to determine how much energy and what filtration systems will be required given specific conditions. They also monitor and maintain the system remotely, and will implement whatever necessary re-mineralization or chlorination (by solar electrolysis) is necessary. Asked how much the system costs, Therillion explained that it's difficult to say because each system is customized. This even extends to the kind of solar generator they provide.

solar, solar desalination, OSMOSUN, Mascara Renewable Water, emissions-free desalination, renewables,

Mascara's technology is not dependent on any specific kind of solar installation. Instead, the company can hook it up with ground-based solar, floating solar or a solar greenhouse. And they can build up the scale, simply adding more solar energy to the mix. Also, in places where a 24-hour supply is absolutely necessary, it is possible to hook up OSMOSUN and NANOSUN to the grid. Doing so will triple its water-producing capacity. But even that is not the extent of what the company has to offer.

Since the transition to a post-carbon future is ultimately inevitable, Mascara has developed a way to convert existing, conventional desalination systems, covering up to 40 percent of the system's daily production with solar energy. The company says, "Mascara’s engineers are the first ones in the world offering this process optimization to dramatically reduce the cost of water."

All images via Mascara Renewable Water

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Flame-farting Dung Beetle art turns plastic waste into usable energy

Alliance Earth, Burning Man, AfrikaBurn, South Africa, Jeffrey Barbee, Dung Beetle, pyrolysis, waste-to-energy, plastic waste, public art, biofuel

A giant colorful metal ball shoots plastic-fired farts 6.5 feet into a dark night sky. This is how Alliance Earth's Dung Beetle made its recent debut during South Africa's annual Burning Man event, AfrikaBurn. It's a fitting venue too. Burning Man was originally conceived to reacquaint people with their creative and civic instincts while reinforcing their connection to nature. And Alliance Earth has a similar mission. Headed by Jeffrey Barbee, a Colorado native partly based in Johannesburg, the non-profit organization works at the intersection of art, education, community engagement and media to encourage environmental and social remediation. But there's one crucial ingredient that Barbee never neglects in his work (I've known him for a few years), and that's fun.

Exciting, practical and beautiful to boot, the Dung Beetle is a public art project that uses pyrolysis technology to convert plastic waste into low emissions diesel and LPG (synthetic) gas. A collaboration between Alliance Earth, artist Nathan Honey and set builder and inventor Pierre “Pops” Pretorius (along with many others), this regenerative piece mimics the dung beetle in both form and function. Think those beetles are rolling around in dung for fun? Maybe, but they also perform a crucial role in keeping ecosystems free of waste; Alliance Earth ambitiously hopes to do the same.

Alliance Earth, Burning Man, AfrikaBurn, South Africa, Jeffrey Barbee, Dung Beetle, pyrolysis, waste-to-energy, plastic waste, public art, biofuel

"Plastic is an un-exploited asset littering the planet," writes Alliance Earth in their original proposal. "By valuing this plastic as a fuel of the future, the Dung Beetle technology turns this problem into a solution."

So, how does it work?

Plastic waste is first shredded to reduce the particle size. This is then fed into a reactor, where it is burned in an oxygen-free environment to mitigate harmful emissions, separating long-chain hydrocarbons. Remaining physical particles are recirculated back into the reactor for another round of combustion, and gas rises to the top. This gas is then run through cooling ribs, where it's condensed into a dripping liquid that can be used as biofuel.

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Meanwhile, the clean LPG gas that does not condense is either fed back into the reactor or re-routed to power a syn-gas generator, or even for cooking, according to Alliance Earth. Carbon remnants can be folded into the soil or "made into something more exciting like nano-tubes or graphene sheets".

Barbee says 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of plastic turns into about 910 grams (2 pounds) of fuel. But isn't burning plastic harmful to the environment?

Anticipating the question, Alliance Earth says no, because Dung Beetle doesn't burn plastic so much as change it. Instead, according to them, by removing the insidious stuff from our rivers and oceans, addressing energy shortages, and loss of hardwoods typically burned for fuel, the roving beetle could potentially reduce the environmental footprint of plastic "thousands of times."

Alliance Earth, Burning Man, AfrikaBurn, South Africa, Jeffrey Barbee, Dung Beetle, pyrolysis, waste-to-energy, plastic waste, public art, biofuel

Both types of fuel produce a fraction of the emissions that result from burning conventional fossil fuels because of the heat and induction system used to sustain the reaction, according to Alliance Earth. The gas is said to release one quarter of the emissions released when burning propane, while burning biofuel produces less than one tenth of diesel fuel's greenhouse gas emissions.

And the farts firing from the beetle's bum? They are produced on demand for excitement and artistic flare.

Barbee and crew hauled the 2.2 ton beetle from Johannesburg to the desert and back, about a 2,050 mile round-trip journey partially fueled by its own product and creating quite a stir along the way. "Everywhere we went people looked at our system encircled by a steel earth like some sort of alien marvel," says Barbee. "In the desert town of Calvinia, children followed the trailer, taking pictures on their cellphones and asking questions."

Alliance Earth, Burning Man, AfrikaBurn, South Africa, Jeffrey Barbee, Dung Beetle, pyrolysis, waste-to-energy, plastic waste, public art, biofuel

At the festival, a wild winter wind prevented them from being able to fire up the beetle because they were concerned about micro-plastics entering the unique ecosystem, something they hadn't anticipated in the controlled environment of their home workshop (and intend to finesse). Once the winds died down, they put on a compelling, educational show that got people thinking — all while having a blast.

Barbee says he and Pierre (Pops) gave talks during the day and brought in more folks through local Tankwa radio interviews. He adds, "Our amazing resident Beetle DJs, Bells and Che, did full music sets for the ten thousand or so folks over the airwaves as well as live shows at the Beetle stage in the evening, along with some serious chats about the dangers of plastic in our food and water."

Partially funded by both Burning Man in the US and AfrikaBurn, the Dung Beetle isn't done gobbling up plastic or farting into the night. Well over six-feet-tall and his own endless source of renewable energy, Barbee has big dreams for his crew's creation. In addition to touring with Dung Beetle as an educational platform, his goal is to partner with government and non-government organizations throughout southern Africa and "cross-pollinate" with other successful environmental projects.

Alliance Earth, Burning Man, AfrikaBurn, South Africa, Jeffrey Barbee, Dung Beetle, pyrolysis, waste-to-energy, plastic waste, public art, biofuel

Sharing their open-source plans for the pyrolysis technology, Alliance Earth hopes to empower communities to clean up their environment and produce cleaner fuel. And they'll address other environmental solutions, including permaculture and solar technology.

Barbee says, "The Dung Beetle will roll off over the sandy horizon to bring its burning message of hope, renewal and radical self-reliance to the rest of southern Africa and the world."

Photos via Jeffrey Barbee / Alliance Earth

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Solar-Powered Sun Lanterns Light Up The Night in Scottsdale

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A new solar-powered public artwork is lighting up the night in Scottsdale, Arizona. Designed by Tempe-based artist Eli Richard, Sun Lanterns is a temporary exhibit comprised of 23 multicolor solar-powered lamps made with plexiglass and steel. Scottsdale Public Art commissioned the project to beautify the Civic Center Mall while it undergoes a redesign.

"The fountain area is a large space with exposed pipework and uneven surfaces, situated in a highly trafficked area," says Jennifer Gill, Public Art Manager, Scottsdale Public Art. "The goal for this project was not only to create a beautiful public artwork in a barren space, but also to visually encourage people to refrain from entering the fountain area for safety reasons while the City of Scottsdale works on a new design for the mall."

Gill says they received many outstanding proposals, but the selection panel felt that Sun Lanterns "successfully activated the site by having a vibrant, multifaceted daytime and nighttime presence." She added that given the installation would live outdoors for up to two years and Scottsdale Public Art’s commitment to using clean energy in public art when possible, "the sustainability of the materials and solar lights were also important factors." Lastly, Gill says the panel felt the lantern concept complements the site's aesthetic.

"The Sun Lanterns are inspired by the colors and landscape of the Arizona desert," Richard tells LAGI. "I have lived in the Phoenix area for five years and I am still blown away by the beauty of the desert and the resilience of the local vegetation. The lanterns play on the color schemes seen throughout different times of the day and utilize solar powered lights to illuminate those colors at night."

Scottsdale Public Art says on their website that the exhibit, installed in February, replaces non-functioning water fountains. "Instead of water, the fountains are now filled with art."

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Specifically designed for this site as a commission with the City of Scottsdale, the lanterns are self sufficient and do not require any maintenance — of which Richard is particularly proud.

"The lights flicker on one by one as the sun goes down, after absorbing its rays throughout the day," says Richard. "I believe it [Sun Lanterns] adds a much needed splash of color and light in the plaza where they are installed," he adds. "The surrounding sculptures, while beautiful and well known, are almost invisible at night. The lanterns allow a unique opportunity for visitors to enjoy the walkway."

Gill says the response has been overwhelming since the project's installation. "Sun Lanterns quickly captured the imagination of the public, resulting in an explosion of Instagram posts and a variety of print and digital news features about the project," she says. "In addition to receiving positive feedback from the general public visiting the Civic Center Mall, City of Scottsdale staff, whose offices are at the mall, have expressed how much they enjoy the artwork on a daily basis."

Visitors will find Sun Lanterns north of Robert Indiana’s LOVE, near the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, for the next 16-24 months. Construction of the renovation is not expected to occur for well over a year. At that point, the lanterns will be donated to Scottsdale for placement elsewhere in the city.

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And Richard? He's always on the lookout for new design challenges and ways to incorporate natural resources.

"Moving forward I am primarily focusing on plexi glass and steel work and developing ideas for kinetic sculpture through solar or wind power," he says. "I am definitely interested in creating more work with solar powered lighting!"

Images courtesy Eli Richard

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Sun Stomp solar art could power a Baltimore home for one year

Sun Stomp, solar, Light City, Baltimore, public art, clean-energy art, art energy generator, Baltimore, Sun Stomp Collective

It's been a big week for us with the announcement that Rio Iluminado won the LAGI Willimantic design competition in Connecticut. We're floored by the community's will to transform their town into an exciting new destination for people from all walks of life, and look forward to stepping into the project's next phase. Meanwhile, we recently caught up with the Baltimore group behind Sun Stomp, an interactive solar-powered audio and video environment that comes alive with a throng of happy stompers.

First, the details. A scaffolding sculpture with two sides — an interactive, 34-foot-tall projection screen on one face and a sloped array of 16 290-watt solar panels on the other, along with elevated bleachers placed 30-feet away from the screen and illuminated by neon LEDs — Sun Stomp produces (and stores) enough energy to power a regular Baltimore home for a year, according to the Collective.

Of course, nobody is suggesting we should all build bleachers in our backyard and make a bunch of noise to annoy our neighbors, but the project does demonstrate that a pinch of creativity applied to clean-energy generation delivers a smorgasbord of benefits.

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Judging by photos and videos captured during Baltimore's recent Light City festival, where Sun Stomp made its neon-tinted debut, visitors were captivated as their wild stomping triggered sun-inspired visuals and amplified sounds derived from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Coreil-Allen teamed up with Matthew Weaver, a solar engineer with a social conscience, along with sound and video guru Mark Brown, to conceive a project for Light City. Said to be the United States' only large-scale international light and ideas festival, it was held this year from April 14 - 21.  A public artist, Coreill-Allen says he has observed that colorful, interactive projects tend to do well at the festival, but he wanted to go one step further. "I thought it would be cool to also bring a social component into the experience," he told LAGI. The trio brainstormed ideas over food and coffee, and Sun Stomp was born.

Brown outfitted the bleachers with a set of eight contact microphones. "So when people stomp on, walk on or otherwise physically interact with these clangy aluminum and steel bleachers, those audio signals are picked up and processed through the program he [Brown] has configured," says Coreil-Allen. That movement then activates "very loud, popping, vivid imagery" of the sun on the projection screen, as well as various audio samples, and then brightens LEDs under the bleachers and outlining the entire scaffolding structure.

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"Seen at night," he continues, "it's almost like the energy is visually and literally flowing from those solar panels horizontally across the scaffolding structure and re-manifesting as this beautiful sun that people are controlling through their physical interactions."

Their main aim, according to Coreil-Allen? "To inspire people through the experience of the sun and help them understand the power of solar energy."

This is right up our alley. We love any collaborative public art project that combines art, clean-energy generation and education with a playful spirit. So much more compelling than a plain field of photovoltaics. But there's also a practical element to the story that is particularly relevant to public artists who face the eternal challenge of digging up funding.

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Coreil-Allen explains that the idea of a solar-powered artwork first stemmed from another project. He was in talks with the City of Baltimore to produce a piece with internal lighting, when the subject of energy came up. Coreil-Allen had to figure out what permits would be necessary to run conduits to deliver city power to his sculpture, and naturally the City wanted to know who would pay for it.

"When designing public art, it's got to have a real bulletproof maintenance plan," he says.  "It's got to last about 30 years with minimal maintenance, typically."

He realized he could avoid a lot of red tape and make the project renewable by simply using solar power. With Matt, he says they were able to engineer an elegant way of integrating the solar panels with the sculpture, which Mark brought alive with color and sound.

Sun Stomp Collective is currently in talks to share their art energy generator elsewhere. Follow them on Facebook to watch as they grow.

All images via Sun Stomp Collective.

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Rio Iluminado: Solar-powered arch wins LAGI Willimantic design competition

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Rio Iluminado by Pirie Associates, Lindsay Suter, and Gar Waterman.

 

The winning team of the most recent LAGI design competition was presented with their award today at Connecticut Arts Day. The artwork, called Rio Iluminado, has won the design commission and the team will now further develop their solar-powered sculpture for implementation on the waterfront of downtown Willimantic.

The Rio Iluminado team comprised of Pirie Associates Architects, architect Lindsay Suter and sculptor Gar Waterman designed the public art piece capable of generating 25.5 MWh of clean energy annually for a 3.4-acre remediated brownfield site owned by the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership (WWP).

“Rio Iluminado cleverly addresses how to bring the river closer to the community—and vice-versa,” says WWP President James Turner. “We are thrilled to have a project design that will result in such an intricately conceived and strikingly executed work of art for the community to enjoy and be inspired by for years to come.”

The Land Art Generator worked with WWP in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) at Eastern Connecticut State University, and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Office of the Arts — with input from Willimantic community members— to stage the design competition for a power-producing centerpiece at a new whitewater park along the Willimantic River.

A glimmering arch covered in a 900 sq. ft. solar array, Rio Iluminado will use the sun to generate energy and mark the passage of the seasons, the rhythm of the day and the movement of river-related species — all while reinforcing the community’s connection to the river.

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Rio Iluminado by Pirie Associates, Lindsay Suter, and Gar Waterman.

 

Laura Pirie, principal of Pirie Associates Architects, says their firm works to partner with people who understand the power of creating on purpose. “Willimantic, as a community in its postindustrial reckoning, struggled to identify itself and its future,” she says. “The LAGI program really resonated with us, from a community purpose-making point of view.”

For Phase II of the project, the winning team will undertake a detailed design stage to develop Rio Iluminado for production. This will include providing detailed drawings for fabrication and installation, a quantity survey and cost estimate, production and installation schedules, along with an appropriate prototyping, test and commissioning plan.

Phase III, which is expected to cost between $250,000 and $500,000, will see the fabrication, instruction and production of the artwork.

"You're creating a sense of space, you're a creating this physical space that makes people feel further connected, and then you're putting energy back on the grid,” says Kristina Newman-Scott, Director of Culture in the Office of the Arts & Historic Preservation, with the State of Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

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Rio Iluminado by Pirie Associates, Lindsay Suter, and Gar Waterman.

 

Willimantic’s riverfront multi-use recreational site is expected to catalyze socioeconomic development for post- industrial Windham, into which the former city has been reincorporated. Energy Technical Specialist Jessica LeClair says ISE sees the project as a possible model that can be shared across the state.

Jim Bellano, the Town of Windham Director for Economic Development, says LAGI Willimantic is consistent with the Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.

“From an economic development perspective,” he says, “the project is in concert with the Town's efforts for promoting recreation and tourism; enhancing the Town's quality of life; and fostering downtown Main Street revitalization.”

Consistent with their motto that Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful, LAGI design competitions emphasize the cultural, educational, interactive, and playful value of public artworks that also contribute to global climate health.

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Rio Iluminado by Pirie Associates, Lindsay Suter, and Gar Waterman.

 

Co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry say, “Rio Iluminado was chosen by the selection committee as the winner because the design emerged out of a thoughtful community engagement process and reflects (both literally and figuratively) the hopes and aspirations of the people of Willimantic for this new place with a timeless and elegant regenerative sculpture.”

Turner says the community appreciated elements of all three designs. Eddy Line, a 35-foot vertical solar-powered sculpture designed by architects Höweler + Yoon and Gray Organischi, along with Push Studio and Nspiregreen, would have been capable of producing 94 MWh of clean energy each year. Solar Boombox, a solar-powered repurposed shipping container that plays music, has capacity to produce 6.7 MWh of clean power annually. That team includes landscape architects Claudia Dinep and Kristin Schwab, artist Ted Efremoff and green energy advisor Matt Macunas.

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

LAGI Willimantic: a Blueprint for Socioeconomic Development in Post-Industrial Cities

LAGI Willimantic, Eddy Line, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, Connecticut, Windham, Willimantic, Willimantic Whitewater Partnership, solar, energy-generating art, public art, design competition, solar art, Institute for Sustainable Energy ECSU, Connecticut DECD Office of the ArtsEddy Line by Höweler+Yoon & Gray Organschi.

A small town in Connecticut has created an inspiring new blueprint for post-industrial socioeconomic upliftment. Part of Windham, and formerly nicknamed "Thread City", Willimantic will soon announce the winner of the LAGI Willimantic design competition that will see the development of an energy-generating work of public art. The competition comprises part of a much larger initiative to revive the community, which in the mid 1980s lost its status as a major nerve center for textile-manufacturing.

The textile industry supported thousands of people over a period of 130 years, according to the National Park Service, deriving energy from the Willimantic River to power its mills. But then in 1985, the American Thread Company closed its plant and shifted operations to North Carolina, leaving in its wake a gaping economic hole.

Like many post-industrial communities across the United States, Willimantic faced the enormous task of reinventing itself, but it would take time. In 2002, the Hartford Courant reported a disproportionate prevalence of heroin use. "The Willimantic River, which once powered the textile mills that made the city prosperous, now draws junkies to its muddy banks to shoot up," the paper reported at the time. "Discarded needles and empty glassine heroin packets litter the river's edge." Concerned to reconnect the city with the neglected river, that same year the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership (WWP) set in motion a series of transformational community-centered projects with their purchase of a 3.4-acre site right off main street. James Turner, president of the nonprofit organization, said the empty lot "at the foot of town hall" had been "seriously contaminated for decades."

LAGI Willimantic, Rio Iluminado, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, Connecticut, Windham, Willimantic, Willimantic Whitewater Partnership, solar, energy-generating art, public art, design competition, solar art, Institute for Sustainable Energy ECSU, Connecticut DECD Office of the ArtsRio Iluminado by Pirie Associates, Lindsay Suter, and Gar Waterman.

WWP's vision for the site is threefold, according to Turner: They want to get national whitewater enthusiasts into the water (Turner says the site lies within a mile of a 100-foot drop that creates some exciting rapids); they want to create an urban green space for recreation with food trucks, farmers markets, music festivals and other community events; and finally, they want to create a hub where several long hiking trails converge. "If you're a hiker or a cyclist coming into town," Turner says, this would be the place to recharge your phones, use the restroom, or find out where to get a hamburger or beer.

To jumpstart their vision, WWP first had to cleanup their riverfront property. To do this, they applied for and in 2013 scored a $200,000 EPA grant to remediate the brownfield site, a task that included removing all remnants of a gas station that had replaced the former mills. Turner says the remediation process was completed in the last couple of years, and more recently, thanks in part to WWP's efforts, work on a mile-long downtown river trail has also concluded.

In the meantime, Kristina Newman-Scott, Director of Culture in the Office of the Arts & Historic Preservation, with the State of Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), describes coming across the Land Art Generator Initiative at the American for the Arts conference when it was held in Pittsburgh. "I immediately knew that they were doing something incredibly unique," she says, "and that Connecticut needed to know more about it." Newman-Scott lamented that it wasn't in the cards to work on a project with co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry while she was still working for the City of Hartford. "But when I got the role as the head of arts and culture for the State of Connecticut," she says, "they were on my priority list of partners."

LAGI Willimantic, Solar Boombox, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, Connecticut, Windham, Willimantic, Willimantic Whitewater Partnership, solar, energy-generating art, public art, design competition, solar art, Institute for Sustainable Energy ECSU, Connecticut DECD Office of the ArtsSolar Boombox by Dinep+Schwab, Ted Efremoff, and Matt Macunas.

Newman-Scott says she meets many project leaders interested to incorporate a sustainability component, but they often take a traditional approach. She thought it would be a perfect time to invite LAGI to work on a project at a small enough scale that would be feasible (funding is a factor) and that would enable the community to see change in real time, providing a model for the entire state. Newman-Scott and her team eventually connected Monoian and Ferry with WWP, which was already toying with ideas around creative placemaking for their downtown property, and a slew of other local stakeholders with various backgrounds. Newman-Scott says the process of linking the various partners was "so organic". "It was like when you have all the right ingredients to make the best one-pot meal," she laughs.

On March 3, 2017, the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) and the DECD Office of the Arts hosted LAGI for a community workshop in Willimantic to discuss the WWP site's various challenges and opportunities, culminating in the decision to launch LAGI Willimantic. The project needed to exhibit the WOW factor to draw in both local and outside visitors and expand its potential to catalyze economic and community development. Jessica LeClair, Energy Technical Specialist for ISE, says LAGI Willimantic merges placemaking with renewable energy use, building community connections at the same time. "We see the LAGI Willimantic project as a possible model that we could share with others across the state."

In November, 2017, 15 teams submitted responses to a Request for Qualifications and three were selected to submit concept design proposals. After close consultations with the community through many outreach events, the three teams then presented their final designs to Willimantic on 14 April, 2018 in the lobby of ECSU's Student Union. Roughly 50 people came out to vote for their preferred design, according to Turner, and the winner will be announced at CT Arts Day in Hartford on 25 April, 2018.

Turner says the democratic process that led to the realization of this project isn't about any one person, but rather allows the community to decide how it sees itself. With LAGI, according to Newman-Scott, "you're creating a sense of space, you're a creating this physical space that makes people feel further connected, and then you're putting energy back on the grid."

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

How dye-sensitized cells revolutionized the solar industry

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Professor Michael Grätzel's future flashed before his eyes in 1973 when OPEC stopped supplying the United States and Western Europe with oil. Foreseeing a time when fossil fuels would be depleted, and freshly armed with a PhD from the Technical University of Berlin, the Swiss chemist decided to devote his life to developing alternative, renewable sources of energy. Today, more than 40 years later, the 73-year-old professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausannes has racked up a slew of achievements — but none more revolutionary than dye-sensitized solar cells.

Grätzel sought to design a solar cell that could absorb sunshine and convert it into electrical energy using similar chemical reactions as plants during photosynthesis. Like a green leaf, his invention — now called either dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC), dye-sensitized cell (DSC), or Grätzel cell — uses a dye molecule to harvest sunlight, while a different component transports the resulting electric charge across the cell. By separating these functions, over time Grätzel and others have managed to significantly drive down the cost of producing solar energy — in part because the semiconductor of conventional silicon cells has to perform both functions. The material has to capture and transport the energy, which means it has to be incredibly pure (and costly). Not only that, but DSCs can convert all visible light, even indoors, on both sides of its face. It is the only photovoltaic technology that mimics photosynthesis to produce electricity.

In 1977, Grätzel became interested in "colloidal semiconductor systems" or quantum dots. Although explaining his research gets really technical here, his main goal was to use materials that didn't have to be so pure, or expensive, yet produced a decent solar conversion rate (to maximize efficiency). In the early 1980s, he and his colleagues pioneered a way to prepare colloidal semiconductor solutions, and later discovered, as he tells Spectrum in a 2006 interview, that "ruthenium complexes endowed with carboxylated bipyridine ligands were anchored firmly on the surface of the colloidal titanium dioxide particles and injected electrons into the conduction band of these nano-dots with practically 100 percent quantum efficiency. Importantly the injection from the excited sensitizer was many orders of magnitude faster than electron recombination with the ionized sensitizer, allowing charge separation to be sustained for many milliseconds" (emphasis added). In other words, they nailed a kind of artificial photosynthesis, and "a new solar cell was born."

To say that Grätzel's real challenges started there would be an understatement. So wild was his invention, he had to convince colleagues it really worked. In the Spectrum interview, he said he traveled around with one of his cells and a fan to "demonstrate the light to electric power conversion effect." Plus, he needed funding to enhance the design. The manager of the Swiss Energy office agency he approached said he had to demonstrate the cell's stability over a nine-month-period before they would provide any financial support. This he did, and the funding came through. Then, word quickly spread of his invention; while such instant recognition was a boon, in a sense, Grätzel was constantly under the hammer to improve his design's performance. The world wanted, nay, needed, his solar cell.

solar, dye-sensitized solar cell, DSC, DSCC, renewable energy, cleantech, green design, science tower, Graz, Austria, H.Glass, renewables, BIPV, Michael  Grätzel

In 1988, an auspicious meeting set in motion a series of events that would lead to the first truly viable DSC. After one of his lectures at Northwestern University in Illinois, a master student at the University of Wisconsin introduced himself to Grätzel. Brian O'Regan and colleagues had developed a colloidal TiO2 membrane membrane for water filtration that he suggested might improve the solar cell's performance. The pair eventually published their first Nature article together in 1991, and today, a small spark in one man's mind has evolved into a multimillion dollar industry. A 2016 Grand View Research report projected the dye-sensitized solar cell market growth to be worth $130.6 million by 2022.

Now more efficient than polycrystalline silicon solar cells, less vulnerable to high temperatures, more flexible, and (take note future LAGI participants) colorful, DSCs have a wide range of applications. In September 2017, one of the world's most sophisticated towers in Graz, Austria, was wrapped in about 1,000 of them. According to Ivano Pano at H.Glass, the company that supplied the Science Tower's solar cells, they are capable of an annual production of up to 25,000 kWh. In Sweden, CEO Giovanni Fili says his company, Exeger, has designed proprietary DSCs that are mostly used in E-readers and wearables. He says they print up to 300,000 square meters of solar cells each year.

solar, dye-sensitized solar cell, DSC, DSCC, renewable energy, cleantech, green design, science tower, Graz, Austria, H.Glass, renewables, BIPV, Michael Grätzel

Grätzel is noticeably pleased with how his invention has evolved, noting that his original Nature article is one of the top 100 most-frequently cited in all of Science. "In Science!" he says. But now he has returned to his initial goal of using the sun to produce fuel. He explains why: "A lot of people now say, well, in the future there will perhaps be too much electricity and we need to store the electric power in batteries. But batteries are expensive and capacity is very limited. So fuels are a better option." Not at all ready to rest, Professor Grätzel is currently investigating how to use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, or reduce CO2. "All of this is now going on," he says. "That's what our research is about."

Image of Professor Michael Grätzel by Patrik Tschudin; Science Tower images via H.Glass, XYZ IMAGES via Exeger

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

Pollution Pods: Making Climate Change Visceral Through Art

Pollution Pods, Somerset House, art, environmental art, eco art, Michael Pinsky, Climart, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, London, climate change, pollution, art and climate change, communicating climate change

What role can art play in communicating climate change? It's a discussion that has gathered steam of late, with concerned creatives around the world devoted to the cause — including Michael Pinsky. A prolific artist who graduated from the Royal College of Art, Pinsky told the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) he was invited by climate psychologists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to create a new piece of work that draws attention to climate change. The scientists had already analyzed about 30 artworks to determine whether they can change people's perceptions about climate change, and their actions. Here's what they discovered, says Pinsky: "People don't do anything unless it affects their everyday life."

"That's when I started thinking about pollution," he says. "I live in London, and pollution affects my everyday life and my children's everyday life. It's something that is omnipresent." He realized an installation that sheds light on the global pollution problem would be a "really good way to motivate people to change their habits." The result? Pollution Pods, a collection of interconnected geodesic domes that allow people to pass through the air of five different places around the world.

Pollution Pods, Somerset House, art, environmental art, eco art, Michael Pinsky, Climart, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, London, climate change, pollution, art and climate change, communicating climate change

The first dome recreates the atmosphere on Norway's Tautra peninsula, surrounded by a pine forest and the sea. "The air in there is incredibly pure," he says. Afterwards, visitors walk into the London dome, where Pinsky says the air is "very much polluted by transportation — particularly diesel engines." Although the visibility in the London dome is quite good, the pollution, which includes nitrous oxide, is quite bad. But not as bad as the next dome, which resembles New Delhi's environment. "It's very hot and humid, visibility is quite poor because there's lot of large particulates in the air," he says. "It's quite unbearable in that dome."

Beijing in the middle of winter is next, and I should say here that anyone who enters the installation must go through all of the domes as they are linked through a series of passages. Beijing's air pollution hazards are well documented, but Pinsky's art makes it visceral for those who have never experienced the smell of factories mixed with burning wood and coal used to heat homes. The final dome recreates São Paulo's pollution. Pinsky says this one "feels better" than the previous two, but it has high levels of ozone, and the city uses ethanol as their basic fuel for transportation. So the smell in that dome is quite acidic and vinegary, he says.

Pollution Pods, Somerset House, art, environmental art, eco art, Michael Pinsky, Climart, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, London, climate change, pollution, art and climate change, communicating climate change

After going through the last four domes, Pinsky says it's a relief to then return to the clearer Norwegian dome. But not to worry: you won't die of carbon monoxide poisoning if you visit Pollution Pods. "It's really a question of perception," says the artist. "I looked at the causes of pollution in any given city, and then recreated the bodily experience of those causes rather than having real diesel emissions, and the carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide associated with that." He then worked with a company to create "a kind of perfume of combusted diesel."

He says the company has a dome in which they release combusted diesel and then analyze the ensuing chemical mix. From that they extrapolate an impression of what one smells, and recreate it with chemicals that Pinsky says are safe. "It's quite a complex technology," he adds, "but that's basically what we're using."

Pollution Pods, Somerset House, art, environmental art, eco art, Michael Pinsky, Climart, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, London, climate change, pollution, art and climate change, communicating climate change

Pinsky, whose work has been displayed at TATE Britain, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chengdu, Saatchi Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, among other prestigious venues, recognizes that pollution doesn't cause climate change. Rather, he says, the causes of climate change also cause pollution. "So, if we can deal with those causes, we can get the double win of dealing with climate change and pollution... That's the kind of discussion I'm trying to push forward with my work."

First unveiled in Trondheim, Norway in 2017, Pollution Pods is now a traveling exhibit. If you're interested to experience the installation for yourself, it will be open to the public for free at Somerset House, on the Strand in London, from April 18 to 25, 2018. Afterwards, Pinsky hopes to tour with Pollution Pods at other venues, both in Britain and abroad, so stay tuned.

All images courtesy Michael Pinsky

Pollution Pods, Somerset House, art, environmental art, eco art, Michael Pinsky, Climart, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, London, climate change, pollution, art and climate change, communicating climate change

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications.

7 Public Art Designs Powered By Algae

Alexandru Predonu, Ring Garden, algae, algae bioreactor, LAGI2016, Santa Monica, desalination plant

Algae is awesome. There's no other way to put it. Ranging from single-celled to complex multicellular organisms, algae has existed for at least three billion years, according to the Smithsonian. Today, its potential to disrupt modern life is increasingly coming into focus. On the one hand, algal blooms are suffocating many waterways contaminated by excess nutrients — frequently as a result of agricultural runoff. On the other hand, as climate change accelerates the imperative to walk away from fossil fuels, say, in the aviation industry, algae shows great promise. It can be used for food, for fertilizer, to control pests, and as an emissions-free alternative to jet fuel. So, it should come as no surprise that several past LAGI participants have incorporated algae into their designs. With the deadline to enter LAGI 2018 coming up, we thought it might be inspiring to share a few.

algaescape, algae, renewable energy, green design, LAGI2014, Copenhagen, Tobias Anderson, Adam Pajonk, Land Art Generator Initiative

ALGAESCAPE

Tobias Anderson and Adam Pajonk from Germany submitted Algaescape to LAGI 2014, held in Copenhagen. They envisioned a giant mesh of woven plastic sleeves that use carbon dioxide and nutrient-rich wastewater to produce algae biomass and oxygen — through photosynthesis. The resulting algaescape would then act as an air and water filter for the city. At night, it would be illuminated with energy-efficient LED lights, providing an exciting new public space for urbanites to spend their evenings. (If you've ever been to Copenhagen, you will know how much the locals love to while away summer nights outdoors.) As with all LAGI designs, this one is safe and educational. Not only is it possible to walk on and under the infrastructure, but its luminescence varies with the increase or decrease of biomass, providing an intimate look at algal multiplication (minus the slime).

Alexandru Predonu, Ring Garden, algae, algae bioreactor, LAGI2016, Santa Monica, desalination plant

RING GARDEN

With Ring Garden, Alexandru Predonu from Romania enlisted algae to solve multiple challenges at once. Designed for the 2016 competition in Santa Monica, where the threat of drought constantly looms, the rotating wheel is a desalination plant, an aeroponics farm and an algae bioreactor. Powered by solar panels and tilted 8.5 degrees to ensure the sun shines right through its belly on Earth Day, Ring Garden is theoretically capable of producing 60 million liters of drinking water every year, as well as 18,000 kilograms of aeroponic crops, and 500 kilograms of spirulina to be used as livestock feed. The solar panels drive the pump necessary to make seawater potable, and of course the infrastructure itself would require materials to build, but algae is beautiful in part because of its remarkable simplicity. It doesn't need much more than water, sunlight and CO2 to grow.

Factoryscape, LAGI2014, Copenhagen, renewable energy, algae, biodiesel, green design, Yasin Toparlar, Onur Can Tepe, Huseyin Penbeoglu

FACTORYSCAPE

Yasin Toparlar, Onur Can Tepe, and Huseyin Penbeoglu from Eindhoven took an entirely new approach to LAGI design with their Copenhagen entry, Factoryscape. Tucked away in a giant red grotto of sorts, algae harvested from a field of bioreactors is used to power a steam turbine and produce energy that way. Charting the history of key energy-producing technology with a boiler, condenser, heat exchanger and other innovations associated with the fading fossil fuel era, the trio envision an entirely new functionality for algae that is equal parts surprising and shocking. Theirs is a multi-sensory design that enlists all of our senses: "Within this grotto, the sounds from the machine are echoed, its connectivity is accentuated, and its aesthetics are exploited."

Morten Rask Madsen, Julie Trier Brøgger, Julie Rindung, Natalia Guerrero Gutiérrez, Artis Kurps, Kevin Bailey, Søren Laurentius Nielsen, Per Møller, Jesper Ahrenfeldt, Tobias Thomsen, LAGI2014, Land Art Generator Initiative, algae, biofuel, green design, clean energy, water purification, land art generator initiative

GRID SLIDE

Another Copenhagen design, submitted by a team of ten. Comprised of three thin towers, GRID Slide turns waste from a nearby treatment plant (combined with CO2 harvested from an existing power plant) into clean fuel and fertilizer. But it also interacts with the changing tides, forever acknowledging nature's vicissitudes, and transforming the urban landscape. Variable sea levels serve the additional, functional purpose of activating pumps that squirt algae-filled water into the towers' bioreactors, where gravity takes care of distribution. Gas produced as a byproduct of the water filtration process powers a 2.5MW generator.

Thomas Laureyssens, Diatom Project, Abu Dhabi, LAGI2010, diatom, algae, crude oil, solar power, renewable energy, public art, green design, land art generator initiative

DIATOM PROJECT

This design doesn't actually incorporate algae. Instead, it celebrates the unicellular diatom, which artist Thomas Laureyssens says many scientists consider to be the species of microalgae which gave us today's crude oil. Often a geometrically-shaped organism encased in a wall of silicon, diatoms also play a productive role in the food chain. This project was designed for LAGI's very first competition held in the UAE for the site between Saadiyat and Yas Islands in Abu Dhabi, a rather barren expanse that would especially benefit from an inspiring work of energy-generating public art. The design mimics a fossilized diatom in shape and texture, incorporating sculpted solar panels that generate energy. The stone base would be carved out of local materials using a CNC machine.

Ryan Connolly, Fertile Crescent: Symbiotic Ecologies, Dubai, Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, algae, biofuel, LAGI2010, Land Art Generator Initiative, green design, energy-generating art

FERTILE CRESCENT: SYMBIOTIC ECOLOGIES

This design by Ryan Connolly, who, at the time that he designed it for LAGI2010, was a student at The Ohio State University, demonstrates that a renewable energy plant can live side-by-side with wildlife. Typically power plants, those that depend on fossil fuels, emit environmental pollutants that are destructive to both fauna and flora (not to mention humans). With Fertile Crescent: Symbiotic Ecologies, visitors enter the site via a field of fiber optic cables that funnel light to the algae plant below. Combined with wastewater from Dubai, and CO2 from their air, the light propagates sufficient algae that it can be harvested to produce biofuel within 10 days, according to Connolly. While the fats, or lipids, would be used to produce electricity for Dubai's residents, any leftover sugars would be used to feed migrating birds that visit the nearby Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary.

Grégoire Diehl, smoothcore architects, Xuhui Liu, Alexandre Braleret, Léa Santamaria, Photoreactor Farm Tower, algae, algae biofuel, LAGI2010, Abu Dhabi, clean energy, green design, vertical farm, LAGI, land art generator initiative, renewable energy

PHOTOREACTOR FARM TOWER

The final design in the series, also submitted to the site between Yas and Saadiyat Islands in Abu Dhabi for LAGI 2010, comes from Grégoire Diehl of smoothcore architects.  Photoreactor Farm Tower takes a whole systems approach to their energy-generating plant, incorporating research, recycling and vertical farming functions into the overall facility. Illuminated green glass tubes take advantage of vertical height to maximize solar exposure for greater algae production. The design brief estimates their closed system could produce as much as 100,000 gallons of algae biofuel per acre in a year — or 2,500MWh of electricity. Placed near an energy plant that processes fossil fuels, according to Diehl, the tower could help sequester the carbon necessary for photosynthesis.

The sheer diversity of these designs illustrates algae's utter awesomeness, don't you think? Of course, none have been realized yet, but LAGI 2018 Melbourne is particularly exciting because, while it is also an ideas competition, a LAGI 2018 team may be invited to be part of the larger consultant team that moves the St Kilda Triangle development forward. It's time to put your creative juices to work!

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications. 

Creative Energy Infrastructure for Better Mind and Body

The Pipe, Abdolaziz Khalili, Puya Kalili, Laleh Javaheri, Iman Khalili, Kathy Kiany, Khalili Engineers, water issues, photovoltaic panels, solar energy, desalination, Santa Monica, renewable energy, clean energy, green design, sustainable design, clean tech, LAGI2016, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, renewable energy, energy art

There's no escaping it: humans need energy to survive. We need it to bake our bread, to refrigerate our medicine, and to light up the night after sundown. But dominant sources of fuel used to power global contemporary life are killing us — and not just metaphorically. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way.

Taking a big picture view of energy production, the Healthy Energy Initiative details numerous ways our existing paradigm destroys environmental and human health. In their report The Health Impacts of Energy Choices (PDF link), the group writes, "From mining to transport, and combustion to waste disposal, the lifecycle of fossil fuel production pollutes the environment and exacts a toll on population health and the political and economic stability of entire nations. Because pollutants can be transported through the air, water, and soil, fossil fuels [sic] pollutants may be distributed well beyond their point of origin."

The Solar Hourglass, solar power, Copenhagen, LAGI2014, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, green design, sustainable design, renewable energy, clean tech, energy art, concentrated solar power

Air pollution is perhaps the best understood byproduct of fossil fuel combustion. A study published in the journal Nature found that global air pollution in 2007 alone contributed to the early deaths of 3.45 million people. That's 3.45 million brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. And of course we can't forget that resulting greenhouse gas emissions are blowing up the giant heat-trapping blanket in our atmosphere that drives planetary warming. Depressing, right? Well, it needn't be, because we have the power to design a far more appealing reality.

Through its biennial design competition, which invites artists, architects, designers, landscape architects and others to imagine site-specific works of public art that also generate clean energy, the Land Art Generator Initiative has collected at least 800 examples of energy generators that could contribute to a healthier future. Going beyond the kilowatt hour, LAGI strives for an energy renaissance that evokes imagination and creativity. With these regenerative designs, we can give global ecosystems a well-deserved rest from our extractive mania, improve our physical health and boost our collective psychological well-being.

The Solar Hourglass, solar power, Copenhagen, LAGI2014, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, green design, sustainable design, renewable energy, clean tech, energy art, concentrated solar power

Colin Ellard is a neuroscientist who observes the impact of urban design on human psychology. In an essay for Aeon called Streets with no game, Ellard demonstrates how "boring cityscapes increase sadness, addiction and disease-related stress." In Psychology Today, he writes about a simple urban intervention in Toronto — the temporary artistic beautification of a run-down construction site — which slowed the pace of urban walkers by roughly half.  He writes, "This simple experiment and its convincing result shows the great power of public art to influence how we move, think and feel in city environments. If such a clear result can be obtained for a fence surrounding a field of poison gravel, then what are the greater possibilities for enhancing city life through thoughtful treatment of the facades, building skins, and walkways that we use as we move about the city?"

Likewise, what if we replace sooty smoke stacks with Solar Hourglasses? Designed by Santiago Muros Cortés, this more creative approach to energy generation, equipped with concentrated solar panels, has an annual capacity of 7,500MWh. Or, since water scarcity is a real and prevalent problem that gives us no choice but to expend energy to convert salty water into something we can consume, we could substitute dull concrete desalination plants with gleaming Pipes. Khalili Engineers from Vancouver envisions using photovoltaic panels and electromagnetic desalination to generate 4.5 billion liters of drinking water each year, while adorning the cityscape with a gorgeous work of art. These are just two designs that envisage a healthier, more aesthetically-pleasing future.

The Pipe, Abdolaziz Khalili, Puya Kalili, Laleh Javaheri, Iman Khalili, Kathy Kiany, Khalili Engineers, water issues, photovoltaic panels, solar energy, desalination, Santa Monica, renewable energy, clean energy, green design, sustainable design, clean tech, LAGI2016, LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative, renewable energy, energy art

Here's the thing: we know that even renewables have an environmental impact. If nothing else, they require materials to produce. But, as my stepmother is fond of saying, there's no such thing in (human) life as perfection. There are only degrees of imperfection. Our greatest hope as a species is to edge as close to perfection as we possibly can, and we're already seeing signs of an encouraging shift. In 2002, William McDonough & Michael Braungart stunned the world with a concept so at odds with our consumer culture it seemed almost inconceivable: the idea that human growth need not be so darn destructive. Their book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Thingsdescribes the possibility of "economies that purify air, land, and water, that rely on current solar income and generate no toxic waste, that use safe, healthful materials that replenish the earth or can be perpetually recycled, and that yield benefits that enhance all life."

Now, in 2018, such a reality is increasingly within reach as dozens of products and materials have been C2C-certified. The non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute calls it the next industrial revolution. Surely, as time goes on, we can apply such innovations to global energy infrastructure, catalyzing a new aesthetically-bold era that revives both body and mind.

Featured projects:

The Pipe, Submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica.

Team: Abdolaziz Khalili, Puya Kalili, Laleh Javaheri, Iman Khalili, Kathy Kiany (Khalili Engineers)

The Solar Hourglass, First Place winner of the 2014 Land Art Generator Initiative Copenhagen design competition.

Artist: Santiago Muros Cortés

Tafline Laylin is a freelance communicator and journalist who strives for global environmental and social justice. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, OZY.com, and a variety of other international publications. 

Turning Renewable Energy Infrastructure into Lasting Artful Monuments

LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative 2016, Santa Monica, land art, renewable art, energy-generating art, cetacea, wave energy converter, solar power, photovoltaics, wave energy, Windbelt, University of Oregon, Keegan Oneal, Sean Link, Caitlin Vanhauer, Colin Poranski
Special editorial by LAGI co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry

The importance of design in our global response to climate change cannot be overstated. Our collective carbon footprint is a reflection of the design of our building systems and envelopes, our landscapes, our city plans, our transportation infrastructure, our food systems, our supply chains, our public policy, and our economic systems. At the heart it is all about design, and design is a reflection of culture.

As we prepare for the emergence of the truly post-carbon city, renewable energy technology is having (or should be having) a profound influence on the way that developers, architects, landscape architects, engineers, planners, designers, and artists are approaching every new project opportunity. The city of the very near future will be defined by the ever-present energy harvesting and generation infrastructures of a decentralized and resilient grid, changing the visual landscape in ways not seen since the advent of the automobile.

In his 1986 film, True Stories, David Byrne remarks that major highway interchanges are the cathedrals of the 20th century. The reference is meant to be interpreted as an ironic reflection on their brutal ugliness and disregard for human scale. Will renewable energy infrastructures be the cathedrals of the 21st century? And if so, will they be an inspiring reflection of the highest aspirations of human culture, or will they be the butt of jokes in future films that lament their contribution to aesthetic and cultural discord?

LAGI, Land Art Generator Initiative 2016, Santa Monica, land art, renewable art, energy-generating art, cetacea, wave energy converter, solar power, photovoltaics, wave energy, Windbelt, University of Oregon, Keegan Oneal, Sean Link, Caitlin Vanhauer, Colin Poranski

As our buildings and cities adapt to reflect the new energy landscape we feel it is important that there be a dedicated professional forum in which the exchange of innovative ideas can help to inspire the design direction our sustainable and resilient cities will take.

Designing every new public space as culturally relevant and net-energy positive is a way to bring about a post-carbon future that is both equitable and thriving. Successful public spaces deserve beautiful places for people, places for nature, and places for art and culture. The Land Art Generator Initiative is challenging creative minds around the world to think about how renewable energy fits into each of these aspects of public space, so that our energy infrastructures can be a beautiful reflection of our humanity and lasting artful monuments to this important time in history.

When we founded LAGI in the fall of 2008 we wanted to present new ways of thinking about the design of renewable energy infrastructure, partially as a response to the not-in-my-backyard public reaction to some proposed installations, and partially as a way to instill a sense of excitement and inspiration in the public imagination about how beautiful our post-carbon cities can be. To bring forward the greatest innovations, we decided to invite the entire world to participate in the conversation through an open call design competition.

Since that time we’ve been holding international design competitions in a different city every two years for renewable energy power plants conceived of as public art. Bringing LAGI to Melbourne—a city that sets a high bar for both art and sustainability—was the perfect conceptual fit. Through the leadership of the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning (DELWP), Victoria is setting an example for the world with a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Melbourne, already one of the most sustainable cities in the world, is targeting net-zero by 2020.

Featured project:
Cetacea, a submission to the Land Art Generator Initiative 2016 competition for Santa Monica
Team: Keegan Oneal, Sean Link, Caitlin Vanhauer, Colin Poranski (University of Oregon)

LAGI 2018 Melbourne

What will you design?

LAGI 2018 is free and open to anyone around the world, and invites you to design a large-scale and site-specific public art installation that generates clean energy by incorporating renewable energy technology as the primary media for the art. Go directly to the registration and downloads portal at https://competition.landartgenerator.org/.

The project is sponsored by the State of Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning, and hosted by the City of Port Phillip.

Partners include: Carbon Arts, Fed Square, and Climarte.

The theme of the LAGI 2018 competition is "Energy Overlays—the superimposition of energy and art onto an emerging master plan for urban regeneration."

The design brief has been carefully crafted with local partners to align with the strategic plans and cultural context of the local site, the city, and the region. The outcomes will demonstrate creative and engaging approaches to urban community energy and resilient microgrids—part of a comprehensive solution to climate change that makes our cities more beautiful as it also makes them more sustainable.

Victoria is setting an example for the world with a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050. Melbourne, already one of the most sustainable cities in the world, is targeting net-zero by 2020.

How much of the clean energy infrastructure required to attain these goals will be implemented within urban areas, and what is the impact of these new installations on our constructed and natural environments? How can solar and wind energy (and other clean technology) be integrated into public spaces in ways that educate, inspire, and are responsive to the history, culture, and nature of place?

Melbourne has a rich tradition of ambitious and creative public projects aimed towards advancing sustainable development. The LAGI competition, which brings together multiple disciplines to take on complex problems, is a perfect fit for Melbourne, a vibrant city of arts and culture.

The design site, St Kilda Triangle and foreshore, is the ideal canvas for the 2018 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition!

PRIZES

1st Prize $16,000 USD
2nd Prize $5,000 USD

One representative of the first and second place winning teams will be flown to Melbourne, Australia for the award ceremony and exhibition opening.

EXHIBITIONS

Award ceremony, exhibition, and book launch held at Fed Square in Melbourne, Australia in October 2018. Satellite exhibitions and workshops will be programmed throughout St Kilda, the City of Port Phillip, and the State of Victoria.

PUBLICATION

The LAGI 2018 publication, Energy Overlays, featuring the top 50 submissions will be released in October 2018 by Hirmer Publishers.

Surface Area Required to Power Bitcoin with Solar



Click on the information graphic above to see a high resolution version.
Or click here to download a PDF version

Have you heard that the electricity used by Bitcoin will exceed 33 terrawatt-hours (TWh) in 2017?

That is a lot of electricity! But how much is 33 TWh really? And if we are going to try to transition to a renewable energy world, how many solar panels will we need to install just to keep up with the electricity demands of Bitcoin? Electricity consumption by Bitcoin could increase to more than 500 TWh per year by the early 2020’s.

How can we begin to square the extreme energy consumption of Bitcoin with our aspirations of a sustainable future? It seems that nearly all of our global efforts at green building design, energy efficiency retrofits, demand side management, and renewable energy investment are being undone by the block-chain currency phenomenon. It begs the question of what do we value in our society when speculation in Bitcoins has driven its price up so precipitously with seemingly no end in sight and with potentially disastrous environmental consequences.

In 2017, the land area required to power Bitcoin transactions with solar panels would more than cover the entire city of San Francisco. Unfortunately, our current electrical grid is not so green, which means that Bitcoin transactions today are mostly powered by coal and other fossil fuels, and in aggregate are responsible for emitting as much CO2 and other greenhouse gases as some of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants. In fact the 2017 Bitcoin electricity consumption is almost equal to 100% of the utility-scale solar power production in the United States.

Extrapolating for future growth in Bitcoin adoption and we can see that its electricity demand could begin to rival the world's entire electricity consumption.

This is not sustainable.

There is only one conclusion that we can draw from these facts. Either Bitcoin must figure out a way to use less electricity, or it will cease to have value in a global economy that responsibly places a higher value on carbon emissions reductions than we do on the marginal benefits of cryptographic currencies.

This article is specifically about Bitcoin, but the same issue exists with all of our data and computing requirements in the rapidly expanding digital age.

References
1. digiconomist is the definitive source for tracking Bitcoin electricity consumption.
Articles calling attention to the issue include: inhabitat and grist
2. EIA (energy consumption is for electricity only and does not include heat energy, transportation, etc.)
3. This estimate does not include Ethereum and other digital currencies, which consumed an additional 11 TWh in 2017 and could grow even faster than Bitcoin.
4. sourcewatch
5. Comparing Bitcoin consumption (33 TWh) and existing solar production: The total electricity generated by utility-scale solar in the United States in 2016 was 36 TWh. Distributed solar (such as rooftop installations) generated 18 TWh. (EIA)

See also Greentech Media who compares the energy consumption of Bitcoin to that of the entire country of Ireland, and RMI News.

Powering Places

Powering Places is the beautiful hardcover book that catalogs the LAGI 2016 design competition for Santa Monica. It is available at many bookstores, museums, and online at the usual outlets. Here is a good list.

The book contains engaging essays by Patricia Watts ("Rising from the Ocean: ECOlogic LA"); James Harris ("Santa Monica's Beach and Pier"); Barry Lehrman ("Los Angeles Aquaductsheds and Energysheds"); Glen Lowry ("Power Redesigned Is Power Redistributed—Spatial Justice and LAGI's Human-scale Energy Solutions"). It begins with a foreword by Craig Watson (Director of the California Arts Council), and an introduction by the City of Santa Monica's Cultural Affairs Director, Shannon Daut ("The Power of the Arts to Address Climate Change").

LAGI co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry also provide a contextual essay about how LAGI 2016 Santa Monica fits into the global social movement for climate progress and a post-carbon energy transition.

It also illustrates 55 of the incredible proposals for energy-generating public artworks that came in from around the world in response to the LAGI 2016 open call.

The beautiful book design is by Paul Schifino (Schifino Design), who also provided the graphic vision for the LAGI 2012 and LAGI 2014 books, Regenerative Infrastructures and New Energies.

Visit the historic Santa Monica Pier at low tide and across the water you’ll see the eroded remnants of a decades-old breakwater sea wall peeking up through the waves. Once a protective barrier for a long lost marina, it’s now the site of the fourth Land Art Generator Initiative design competition. Entrants were challenged to create a piece of civic art that also acts as sustainable and renewable energy infrastructure for the city of Santa Monica, California. This book includes renderings, illustrations, diagrams, and essays. The result is an astounding sampling of innovative and artistic solutions that employ the latest wave, tidal, wind, and solar technologies.

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Prestel (December 1, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 3791353691
ISBN-13: 978-3791353692