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

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!


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.


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.


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.

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

Community Energy for San Antonio


This past April the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) hosted the Land Art Generator Initiative for a workshop in San Antonio in partnership with the Land Heritage Institute, LiftFund, and AIA San Antonio.

We have since put together a PDF record of the workshop outcomes. Download the PDF brochure here (or click on the image above) to learn discover the innovative ideas that participants developed over the course of the day-long event.

During the day long workshop, community members investigated how renewable energy technologies can be incorporated into public art and creative placemaking opportunities around San Antonio. The event was an open forum for the creative exchange of ideas within a variety of contexts to address multifaceted issues around the environment and social equity through a design lens, and without constraints on individual creativity.

Chris Plauche from San Antonio Catholic Worker explains the unique characteristics of a site in San Antonio's Eastside.

Over the next decade as San Antonio continues to build on its rich cultural heritage through exciting developments around the city, it will be important to maintain a focus on how the outcomes of economic growth will bring benefits to everyone and not only to those who live in more affluent districts. It will also be important to consider the environment and incorporate sustainable infrastructures for energy, water, and food.

Robert Amerman, Exuecutive Director of the San Antonio River Foundation talks about a new acequia for pico hydro and using an old chimney as a solar updraft tower.

Perhaps there are opportunities to bring site specific design solutions to key sites around San Antonio that can proactively address these issues and serve as an example and catalyst for equitable development throughout the region.

To that end, LISC has identified a number of city-owned vacant lots in key residential neighborhoods. The workshop took a look at some of these, along with more prominent sites, such as the Lone Star Brewery, a large mixed use redevelopment project, and EPIcenter, a project transforming the old Mission Road Power Plant power plant into a clean energy incubation hub.

Visiting a site on 19th Street in San Antonio's Westside

This is the challenge that the participants in the workshop set out to solve with artful and creative proposals for speculative design interventions in public space.
The discussion brought out many ideas for potential applications in San Antonio, including vacant lots, the Mission Reach, and major development projects where a public art component could also add to sustainable development goals by generating clean energy on site.


Conversation pointed to how such projects could involve the school systems to invigorate science, technology, engineering, and math education by inspiring creativity and supporting STEM to STEAM initiatives. Sites could serve as destination field trips for learning about closed-loop systems, sustainable technologies, ecology, and biomimicry.


Innovative projects with roots in San Antonio could even spread to other cities, supporting the local economy through research, design, manufacturing, and fabrication.

LAGI in Willimantic, Connecticut


On March 3, 2017, 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 hosted the Land Art Generator Initiative for a workshop in Willimantic. The workshop followed LAGI's participation the previous day at Connecticut Arts Day in Hartford.

Participants in the afternoon “think tank” in Willimantic put their heads together around the design challenges of a prominent site on Bridge Street in the heart of town. The site is owned by the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership (WWP) who is interested in bringing forward the best ideas for how to utilize the parcel, which they have recently remediated and prepared for development.

During the workshop, community members investigated how renewable energy technologies can be incorporated into public art and creative placemaking opportunities so that the intervention on this exciting site will bring the greatest benefit to the city and its people.

The WWP site offers the perfect opportunity to integrate renewable energy, with a richness of resources, including hydro, solar, and wind (as was made evident on the extremely blustery March day of the workshop!). The site, in such a prominent location in downtown Willimantic, is ideally situated to be a catalyst for economic and community development.


Setting the Stage
Lynn Stoddard, Director of ISE and Kristina Newman-Scott, Director of Culture at the Office of the Arts, opened the event together with reference to the aspirations of the State of Connecticut in arts and sustainability.

The Land Art Generator Initiative founding directors Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry followed with a presentation about the history of energy in our cities and landscapes and how LAGI is bringing forward creative ideas for beautiful infrastructures that can help to combat climate change.

Jim Turner, President of the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership presented a history of the site and the objectives of WWP, with help from Herb Bush, the civil engineer who managed the recent site mitigation project.

With this wonderful overview of the site context, the group worked together to put in place a plan of action. We're really looking forward to being a part of the next steps towards bringing public art and renewable energy infrastructure to Willimantic!

To learn more and read about the workshop outcomes, download the PDF brochure by clicking on the image below.


Something on which we can all agree: Solar power is great

The future of energy has arrived in Pennsylvania and we ought to push it forward.

This is an op-ed article by the founding directors of LAGI. It was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on Sunday February 5, 2017. In this version, we have provided some helpful links for those who would like to dig deeper! - Elizabeth and Robert

The day before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, a team installed solar panels on our roof that will offset 100 percent of our home’s electricity. We live in one of the densest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh in a 20-foot wide row house on the North Side.

The timing of the installation worked out to be inauguration eve by chance, but it made us reflect on the fact that this is one of the easiest actions that we can take as Americans to help both country and ourselves — whether we are concerned about the climate and that the Trump administration might lock in a few additional degrees of global temperature rise, or whether we are interested in being grid-independent and saving money.

The winds of populism are rolling in on both sides of the political spectrum. This was made clear with the popularity of the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns. Populism appeals to ordinary people, and we can’t think of an issue that is more popular than renewable energy.

A post-election survey conducted by the Conservative Energy Network found that more than 70 percent of voters, regardless of party, favor placing more emphasis on solar and wind power than on coal. Even base GOP voters favor wind and solar over coal.

In many markets, solar already has surpassed all other forms of energy generation and become the cheapest per kilowatt-hour. Unless government puts its finger on the scale, we can see the end of coal as an electrical power source.

For those who understand the science of climate change, this is good news. And for those who doubt the science, it is still good news because it means cheaper power, more resilient infrastructure, less air pollution, fewer lopped-off mountaintops, lower risk to our riversheds and natural habitats, and increased independence from a not-always reliable electricity grid.

So, call up a solar company today and put those panels on your roof! You might not need to spend a dime to do it. You likely can arrange a purchase agreement by which you lease your roof and buy back the energy — while saving money on your electric bill.

Call your state representatives and municipal officials, too. Tell them to support market-based approaches, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE), to kick-start the clean-energy economy and create jobs. Tell them to support efforts to require that Renewable Energy Credits used in Pennsylvania are generated in Pennsylvania through the production of clean energy. And promote community projects in your own neighborhood to produce more renewable energy.

There are hundreds of thousands of rooftops and vacant lots in Pennsylvania that represent ripe opportunities for generating power. With the cost of installed solar panels at less than $4 per watt and falling, there is no reason to delay.

In the hands of artists and designers, the use of vacant lots for community solar can also become opportunities to create public art with new types of solar panels, which now come in almost any color. Let's catch up to states such as New York, where the Reforming the Energy Vision plan is reducing market barriers to clean-energy infrastructure and where a statewide Green Bank is increasing the availability of capital for energy projects.

Remind your representatives that, in Pennsylvania, jobs in the clean-energy sector outnumber those in coal, gas and petroleum combined by nearly 2 to 1, and that jobs in renewable energy will be tripling in the next decade worldwide.

Western Pennsylvania has a tradition of being at the leading edge of energy innovation, from Titusville to Westinghouse and the Marcellus Shale. Let’s recognize that the sun is setting on those old technologies. Let’s move to the front edge of the 21st century.

Imagining Solar Art at the Village of Arts and Humanities Philadelphia

Photo by Katia McGuirk

Photo by Katia McGuirk

Thanks to the Village of Arts and Humanities for hosting a LAGI workshop today in North Philadelphia. The event was held in partnership with Temple University, and brought together a wonderful group of all ages to brainstorm ideas for bringing renewable energy infrastructure into this vibrant neighborhood.


The day started off with an introduction to the history of the Village of Arts and Humanities by the Executive Director, Aviva Kapust. We were inspired by the rich tradition of community art with an infrastructural approach to beautifying public spaces. From the Village's website:

More than 40 years ago, Arthur Hall erected the Black Humanitarian Center near the corner of 10th and Lehigh in North Central Philadelphia (now The Village’s main programming building). For Arthur Hall, creating space for people in the neighborhood to read, dance, sing and make music, was a crucial part of each resident learning and celebrating the community’s culture and heritage. Twenty years later, artist Lily Yeh continued growing spaces in the neighborhood, in the same spirit of communal care and compassion. For Lily, the beautification of physical space catalyzed positive mental and emotional shifts in the way that residents viewed their own lives and the health of their neighborhood. Using social art practice, both Arthur and Lily—the Village’s first artists in residence—in collaboration with Big Man, Jo Jo, H German Wilson, and so many other influential figures, encouraged people to believe in, and help build a more beautiful and just future for themselves and their families.


With help from Jon Hopkins, Environmental Director and head of the PhillyEarth program, we explored the beautiful park spaces and building facades of the Village as a group, looking at opportunities for solar power generation. The group studied three potential sites and everyone eventually narrowed in on one south-facing wall of a building directly across from Ile Ife park that has the greatest solar potential.


After learning about the amazing versatility of solar panels (did you know that they can come in almost any color and in custom shapes?) and inspired by a pop-up exhibition of LAGI artworks from past competitions, the workshop participants got busy with idea generating.


The concepts that developed are rooted in the tradition of the neighborhood and carry forward key phrases such as "power resilience" and "angels watching over the community." Any of the ideas put forward today could evolve into a public artwork for the Village that provides renewable energy to the community with integrated solar technology. More than that, the concepts presented can continue the rich tradition of the Village of Arts and Humanities supporting self expression and catalyzing positive change.


The workshop followed a talk the day before at Temple University's Architecture Building.


A special thanks to Kathleen Grady and Sally Harrison at Temple University for planning and supporting this February's LAGI events.

The program under which the workshop took place is part of Temple University's "Seeing Stories: Visualizing Sustainable Citizenship" series, co-curated by Temple Contemporary, Temple University’s Office of Sustainability, and Temple University Libraries, along with faculty and graduate students from the Tyler School of Art, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Center for the Cinematic and Performing Arts.

Google autocomplete is not helping our clean energy transition.


We caught an interesting article in the Guardian today, "How Google's search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias," which calls attention to the fact that when typing in the Google search engine field, the autocomplete feature tends to bring up false information on subjects including climate change.

After testing the climate change example for ourselves and getting the same result, we decided to try some other topics and we were honestly shocked. For those who are only just beginning to educate themselves on topics such as solar panels or wind turbines, they may be more likely to click on misleading information as a result of Google's algorithm. The fact that these autocomplete examples are in the system also points to the fact that we have a lot more work to do dispelling myths and uncertainties about the viability of renewable energy.


And what about searches for fossil fuel technologies? Surely they will autocomplete with adjectives like "dirty" or "polluting" right?


Natural gas is definitely not renewable.


Coal is definitely not clean or efficient. What is going on here?

The only other power technology to get "bad" as one of the autocomplete options was nuclear, but it also came with the false information that it is "renewable."


Regatta H2O

Regatta H2O, First Place winner of the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Christopher Sjoberg and Ryo Saito
Artist Location: Tokyo, Japan
Energy Technologies: Aerostatic Flutter Wind Harvesting (WindBelt™)
Water Harvesting Technologies: fog harvesting
Annual Capacity: 70 MWh (used on site) and 112 million liters of drinking water

What makes a human-made form beautiful? What makes a natural landscape beautiful?

Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, but both powerful forms and landscapes elicit strong emotional attachments, and the experience of them can inspire people into action. While each may be evaluated on their own merits and qualities, rarely do they come together without controversy.

Yet there are some man-made forms so universally associated with their landscapes, and so steadfastly imprinted in the collective imagination—the red dairy barns of pastoral America, the terraced rice paddies of Southern China, the whitewashed villas of hilltop Greece—that they become an inseparable element of the natural landscape's identity. The sea is no different, and since civilizations first began navigating the oceans by harnessing the wind, the billowing forms of sail and mast have occupied an omnipresent place in the mental image of the seaside.

Regatta H2O repurposes this familiar maritime form as infrastructure, which harvests fog to create fresh water and harnesses the wind in order to power its operations.

The sails of Regatta H2O are fog-harvesting meshes. Collection troughs are designed as veins within the sail surface, transporting harvested moisture to the mast where it can be piped to storage vessels at the Santa Monica Pier. When the moisture content of the air falls below a certain threshold, the sails are retracted to reveal the horizon line of the Pacific Ocean.

While water is harvested passively, some electrical power is need to operate the pumping and steering mechanisms, and deployment of the sails. This energy is extracted from the wind via a device known as a WindBelt™, which relies on an oscillating belt suspended between two electro-magnets. Each of the Regatta H2O masts contains eight such generating units along its length.

At night, light rings beneath each wind band pulsate with the intensity of power being generated. This also serves as a navigational safety device, alerting boats of their presence in the dark.

Through an artistic and technological re-imagining of millenniums-old science, Regatta H2O shows that the union of the natural environment with the climatic benefits of sustainable energy and water infrastructure can have powerful and positive impacts on how we perceive cherished landscapes.


Cetacea, Second Place winner of the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Keegan Oneal, Sean Link, Caitlin Vanhauer, Colin Poranski (University of Oregon)
Artist Location: Eugene (OR), USA
Energy Technologies: wave energy converter with linear alternator, Windbelt™, photovoltaic panels
Water Harvesting Technologies: high efficiency reverse osmosis (HERO™ by Aquatech) for stormwater runoff treatment
Annual Capacity: 4,300 MWh (80% used to offset the energy demand of existing SMURRF facility and power HERO™ system)
650 million liters of drinking water

Cetacea is an elegant integration of energy and art, glistening white in the Santa Monica sun, rising gracefully from the surface of the water.

Cetacea generates power by harvesting the renewable resources of Santa Monica Bay—wind, wave, and sun. Driven by the principle of “clean power for clean water,” Cetacea reconciles water scarcity with pressing social and ecological concerns by supporting the existing water filtration facilities near the pier while providing carbon-neutral power to city residents. By connecting to the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility (SMURRF) and providing enough electricity to run a High Efficiency Reverse Osmosis (HERO) system, Cetacea contributes to Santa Monica’s 2020 sustainability goals of water and energy independence.

The blue whale is a pelagic powerhouse. Consuming upwards of four tons of krill per day, the world’s largest creatures are fueled by gargantuan quantities of its smallest. Cetacea reimagines the blue whale’s strategy of capturing micro-sources of energy on an even larger scale.

In place of the sprawling and unappealing profile of common renewable energy farms, a vertical configuration of wave-, wind-, and solar-powered generators within graceful, multifaceted arches maximizes energy production within a minimal footprint. Modular arch components mean that Cetacea can easily be expanded in the future through the construction of additional forms, meeting the needs of a changing city while continuing to generate energy beautifully and unobtrusively. Repetition and subtle variation of the arches create ethereal forms in constant interaction with the play of sea, light, and cloud across the horizon.

Wave buoys 300 mm in diameter are situated within the framework of the arches, floating at sea level to capture wave energy around the clock. The vertical movement of each passing wave induces the flow of electricity by moving a magnet through an electromagnetic coil.

Windbelts™ are stacked within the sides of each arch at one-meter intervals. Following Bernoulli’s principle, the form of the arches increases wind speed as it passes through the belts. The resulting aerostatic flutter of the belts creates energy by oscillating magnets through an electromagnetic field. Photovoltaic panels positioned at the top of each arch provide maximum solar output.

Cetacea consists of five sculptures of three different sizes. Each parabolic arch ranges in height from 13 meters to 30 meters tall. A pile system uses recycled concrete and allows room for habitat reconstruction around the minimal physical footprint of the structures.

Paper Boats

Paper Boats, Third Place winner of the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Christopher Makrinos, Stephen Makrinos, Alexander Bishop
Artist Location: Pittsburgh, USA
Energy Technologies: concentrated photovoltaic (CPV), reflectors, Holographic Planar Concentrator™ (HPC) technology developed by Prism Solar Technologies
Annual Capacity: 2,400 MWh

A shimmering, iridescent mirage of swirling whites, pinks, and greens floats playfully in a sinuous line resembling a school of fish. Paper Boats recalls the 1930s desire to transform the Santa Monica Pier into a thriving boating and yachting destination. The breakwater constructed at that time created a protected harbor, but has eroded over the years. Today it is almost completely submerged under the ocean surface.

While recalling this history, Paper Boats revitalizes the ecology of the area. Throughout the years, over-hunting and over-fishing of some key species have allowed purple urchin to graze on the kelp without competition. This has led to “urchin barrens,” which offer little in the way of genetic diversity, food, or nesting habitats. Paper Boats has reversed this trend by establishing pockets of coral and kelp (once commonplace here) within underwater “shipwreck” frames that anchor each boat to the historic breakwater. The rebar “shipwrecks” mirror the sculptures above and encourage coral growth with a phenomenon called accretion. First observed by Wolf Hilbertz, accretion is a process where a trickle of direct current electricity (provided by the solar collector above) is run through the rebar to accelerate coral growth up to five times faster than normal.

Paper Boats uses a combination of special Fresnel lenses, reflectors, and holographic photovoltaic cells. Each boat’s four sails work as concentrated photovoltaic collectors. The outer shell of the “sail” utilizes Fresnel lenses to channel incoming light.

Beneath the sails are a series of holographic photovoltaic cells that pair laser-etched glazing with bi-facial silicone panels to trap sunlight from both directions with incredible efficiency. The intricately cut patterns also refract light, giving them the shiny, iridescent quality that glows beautifully—especially at sunset.

The solar panels are attached to a ceramic-cladded aluminum framework. The structure conceals the CPV conduits and acts as a passive heat sink. A trickle of energy is diverted to the “shipwrecks” before entering the main conduit. This small charge provides a catalyst for coral growth, strengthening the local marine ecosystem.

The Ocean Still: Lagrimas de Santa Monica

The Ocean Still: Lagrimas de Santa Monica, a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Nuith Morales, Stephanie Hsia, Courtney A. Goode, Michelle Arevalos Franco, and Helen E. Kongsgaard
Artist Location: Boston, USA
Energy Technologies: Solar Distillation
Annual Capacity: 9 million liters of drinking water

The twin springs that inspired Santa Monica’s name were fabled to be the tears of a saint. At a time of growing thirst in California, The Ocean Still augments this sacred source of water by transforming seawater into fresh water, using only the energy of the sun. A large, transparent enclosure—a solar still perched on the old breakwater—makes a surface for collecting the saint’s pure tears once again. This simple, pre-modern technology concentrates sunlight, distills saltwater, and condenses fresh water on a glass shell. The entire breakwater structure, including the passive solar still and its complex of pools, celebrates the many forms of water as well as the residue of desalination.

Fusing urban needs and pleasure, the expanded breakwater complex recalls the history of the Santa Monica Pier as municipal sewage utility and its vital role in urban metabolism. Now, as before, the processes that make city life possible are tied to entertainment and destination—water production as spectacle.

Inside the “still” solar radiant heat is absorbed and concentrated. The seawater evaporates. As it condenses on the glass shell, a collection channel diverts the pure distillate into a cistern and to the pier. The angled glass walls face due south, absorbing maximum solar heat and exploiting the flow of prevailing westerly and southwesterly winds.

The concentrated saline brine that results from desalination exits from a low point into the “brine pool”—a long, deep swimming pool that induces the body to float. Swimmers churn the brine water with their movements, maintaining the water at a consistent density.

When the brine waters approach the pool’s capacity they flow onto the “mixing beach.” Here, short walls allow for waves to crash and stir the concentrate—brine mixing with seawater. This slow reclamation of diluted brine back to the Pacific Ocean prevents the dead zones associated with industrial desalination. The shallow slope of sand and gravel at the “mixing beach” creates a protected habitat for marine fauna, and an idyllic floating coast for California sunbathers.

The Ocean Still encourages hope in simple technologies that will not readily become obsolete. Drought and thirst cannot be easily solved at the push of a button. Thoughtful interventions in our lives and landscapes, beyond providing solutions, have the capacity to engage the desires and delights of the senses.


Flowerpops, a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Augusto Audissoni, Silvia Cama, Elisabetta Lo Grasso, Elisa Tozzi, Nicolò Mossin
Artist Location: Genoa, Italy
Energy Technologies: Vortex Bladeless™ Wind Turbine, Thin Film Solar (similar to AltaDevices™), Point Absorber Buoy Wave Energy Converter
Annual Capacity: 13,000 MWh

Just off the Santa Monica Pier there is an artificial giant garden, vibrant and full of life, with everything moving and the sound of the wind whistling between the stems. Here and there one part of the system catches the eye for a moment. As Lewis Carroll suggests, perhaps it is necessary to invert the size relationships between humans and nature to uncover the laws that regulate the balance between the parties.

Flowerpops integrates a new technology park with the spectacular character of its ocean setting. The famous funfair skyline on Santa Monica Bay is extended toward the horizon line near the breakwater. Five different technologies for energy production are brought together there. The devices are designed in five natural shapes in order to compose an artificial ecosystem.

“Wind flowers” come in four different sizes and use Vortex Bladeless™ technology. “Flying pollen” are realized in colored PET-G plastic, they weigh no more than 750 grams and they are driven by a mechanical system, set in motion by the energy produced by some “wind flowers.” “Floating water lilies” exploit wave power and are configured as a carpet of undulating buoys that dot the sea horizon. The “tulip binders” are pools of rainwater harvesters that raise and lower depending on the difference of pressure generated by the water collection. “Sun flowers” use photovoltaic film to convert sunlight into electricity.

During the passing of the day the surrounding playground changes according to weather and time. In the night the stored energy powers over 2,000 LED lights, reflecting the effect of the starry sky onto the ocean.

Santa Monica Ocean’s Breath

Santa Monica Ocean's Breath, a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Fabio Azzato
Artist Location: Florence, Italy
Energy Technologies: Point Absorber Buoy Wave Energy Converter
Annual Capacity: 1,000 MWh

Santa Monica Pier is a continuation of the city into the ocean represented through play and entertainment. Santa Monica Ocean's Breath continues to enrich the link between the ocean and the city in a fun and visible way.

The energy potential of wave movement is enormous and the conversion to electricity is relatively simple.

The 78 floating buoys, situated 100 meters from the breakwater rocks, produce clean energy that is used to supply Santa Monica Pier activities.

By night, a small part of the produced energy is used to light up the buoys and their connection to the pier. Each buoy has a vertical illumination bar that is activated in proportion to the energy produced by the ocean—a synchronized dance of light with waves.

Santa Monica Ocean's Breath delivers enough clean energy to make the pier net-zero while creating a unique atmosphere that can attract tourists and set an example for other coastal cities.

The Surface Area Required to Power California with 100% Renewable Energy

click on the image above to access the full-size PDF

California has enacted an ambitious carbon reduction policy to bring emissions down to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. We decided to take a look at what the land use impact of energy has been on California in the past, and what a real shift to a 100% renewable energy infrastructure might look like.

The information graphic is the latest in our series that explores the land use impact of renewable energy in a post-carbon world. Starting in 2009 with the Surface Area Required to Power the World with Solar, we have been making the case that the renewable energy transition, while a huge undertaking, is not any more ambitious in scale than previous human endeavors, and that the footprint on our environment can be designed to be in harmony with nature and provide a unique benefit to human culture.

In this graphic, we show a diversified mix of renewable energy technologies and the impact in terms of land area in direct proportion to consumption by county (you can quickly see that Los Angeles County is the biggest consumer). Much of the infrastructure can be located within our cities—on rooftops and through creative and community-owned applications in public spaces. The rest could easily be located in the places that have already been disturbed by oil and gas extraction—the dark dots on the map.

By enlisting these fossil fuel land areas in the fight against climate change, we can keep the CO2 the ground while we clean up the sky.

oil-well-landuseThis is what all of the 227,278 dark dots on the map look like up close (near Bakersfield, CA)

In the course of our research, we came across the MIT study, The Future of Solar Energy, which also includes a section that studies land use comparisons. We were fascinated to learn that across the entire US, the land area required to satisfy 100% of U.S. 2050 energy demand with PV would be no larger than the surface area that has already been "disturbed by surface mining for coal." Some other comparisons from the study:

The land area required to supply 100% of projected U.S. electricity demand in 2050 with PV installations is roughly half the area of cropland currently devoted to growing corn for ethanol production, an important consideration given the neutral or negative energy payback of corn ethanol and other complications associated with this fuel source. That same land area&emdash;i.e., 33,000 km2 to supply 100% of U.S. electricity demand with PV&emdash;is less than the land area occupied by major roads. The currently existing rooftop area within the United States provides enough surface area to supply roughly 60% of the nation’s projected 2050 electricity needs with PV

Diagram from The Future of Solar Energy, Chapter 6: PV Scaling and Materials Use

California is acting on a plan (read more about the Governor's Climate Change Pillars: 2030 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals) that should set the standard for the entire country. By reaching 50% renewable electricity production, reducing petroleum use in transportation by 50%, and increasing energy use efficiency, these 2030 goals can provide the momentum for a 100% renewable energy economy by 2050.

Recognizing the unprecedented global threat of human induced climate change, we do not have the luxury of acting any less vigorously than California on a global scale, and in fact, that may not even be fast enough. Don't ask how much it will cost because that is the wrong question. What will be the cost to the children born in 2016 if we do not act now? The technology exists to begin today, and the economic stimulus effect of a WPA-scale regenerative infrastructure project for the 21st century will bestow positive benefits for generations.

Let's get to work!

Weightless Balloons

Weightless Balloons, a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Aitor Almaraz, Sonia Vázquez Díaz (University of A Coruna)
Artist Location: A Coruna, Spain
Energy Technologies: Wind Harvesting (similar to MARS™, Magenn Air Rotor System), and Point Absorber Buoy Wave Energy Converter
Annual Capacity: 2,000 MWh

There is a profound power between the sea and sky—two endless parallel planes seeming to merge in the distance and obscured by the curvature of the earth. The pier with its thousand legs is walking inside the ocean, attempting to reach that imaginary and impossible contact point between air and water. The amusement park colonizes the platform and, in the middle of the attractions, the balloon seller offers us the fantasy of weightless deliverance—the dream of floating above our everyday struggle.

Weightless Balloons is a set of ethereal bubbles emerging from the sea, floating on the surface, moving to the rhythm of the waves. These gas spheres are protected by a metallic skeleton, like water molecules aspiring to abandon their liquid state to evaporate and blend with the air. This hope of freedom is fulfilled by the wind, which releases the balloons and makes them fly at its will. The free energy channeled into electricity derives from the fight of the bubbles against the tidal forces and the dance with the wind.

The artwork can function in two different modes for energy production. After analyzing the weather conditions, a computer determines if more power can be generated from the waves or from the wind, switching from one mode to the other as conditions warrant. Low tide sees the bubbles disappear completely behind the breakwater as they operate in “buoy” mode.

The balloons are filled with an inert gas, lighter than air, which keeps the structures floating on or over the water surface. Their skin is fabricated with double ETFE plastic layers, transparent but very durable.

The bubble’s structure is attached to a coiling gear, which automatically adjusts the length of the cable to the tidal conditions, and allows the system to alternate between the “buoy” and the “aero” generator modes. The coilers work with a mechanism very similar to sailboat coilers, capable of operating in constant contact with the water, and of bearing heavy loads.

When the computer detects good wind conditions, the coils loosen to allow the structures to rise into the air and spin around their axis to produce electricity.

Horizon Lines

Horizon Lines, a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Rebecca Borowiecki (University of Colorado)
Artist Location: Boulder, USA
Energy Technologies: Transparent Solar Cell by Onyx Solar®
Annual Capacity: 625 MWh

In its original form in 1909, the Santa Monica Pier was built over a sewage pipe that emptied into the ocean, working to hide the effects of humanity on the environment. Horizon Lines takes this one piece of Santa Monica’s rich and diverse history and turns it upside down. It presents a contemporary counterpoint by creating a transparent energy source on the horizon for all to see, inspired by the form of the pier’s pylons and the shape of a wave.

The project is composed of BIPV (building integrated photovoltaic) glass panels the spacing of which is based on the crest and trough of a wave. The panels are spaced more tightly near the end of the pier to create the intensity in the crest of the wave, reflecting and refracting water and sky. The middle portion represents the trough of the wave, where the ocean becomes calm and glass-like. This pattern culminates at the far end with a tightening of the panels to signify the next peak of the wave as it heads toward shore. Walking along the beach or the pier, a visitor experiences different perceptions of the sculpture, like the glint of a wave in morning sun or a crystal-clear view through the panels to the true horizon behind.

Each panel is illuminated with an LED light strip connected to the panel’s individual meter. Through the levels of illumination, visitors will be able to visualize how much energy has been produced.

Follies and Fog

Follies and Fog a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Nik Klahre, Brooke Campbell-Johnston
Artist Location: London, UK and Copenhagen, Denmark
Energy Technologies: Wave Energy Converter
Annual Capacity: 13,000 MWh, less the energy required to power fog generation

Renewable energy of the future does not need to be a blot on the landscape, or an affliction on local ecosystems, but can instead float harmlessly and almost invisibly just below the ocean’s surface. Follies and Fog celebrates the notion that today's renewable energy sources do not require exterior cladding or to be fashioned into interesting forms, but instead can remain hidden and out of sight, while providing sustainable energy for the city.

The artwork makes visible the hidden wave energy production units below the surface of the ocean, but also uses a small amount of wave energy to conceal itself in a fog mist. As the amount of renewable energy produced nears the target of powering 1,280 homes, the amount of artificial fog is so great that it completely engulfs the artwork in a cloud of mist, obscuring it from view. It is only when the renewable energy source begins to wane as the waves become less powerful that the viewer is able to perceive the work of art within the cloud of artificial fog.

The design proposes 128 floating follies, each symbolizing the archetypal Santa Monica dwelling and its need for energy. Each of the bright red follies is an abstraction of a house type found in a district of Santa Monica. The follies are connected to a floating grid of buoy-type wave energy converters. Each folly is directly responsible for powering 10 homes within the City of Santa Monica.

A walkway invites visitors to follow the line of the original Santa Monica Pier—a train line that extended out into the sea. There they can walk along this floating path surrounded by the abstract floating houses, as if walking along Santa Monica Boulevard.

Catching the Wave

Catching the Wave a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Christina Vannelli, Liz Davidson, Matthew Madigan
Artist Location: Hamilton, Ontario Canada
Energy Technologies: Point Absorber Wave Energy Converter (similar to CETO™ by Carnegie Wave Energy)
Annual Capacity: 16,000 MWh

Catching the Wave is an artistic impression of the historical context of the Santa Monica Pier and its breakwater. The area behind the breakwater was once home to a yacht harbor filled with hundreds of sailboats and moorings. Catching the Wave utilizes the relationship of a sail ship and its mooring, and exaggerates the scale of both silhouettes. The fleet is moved to the west side of the breakwater to capitalize on the raw energy of the ocean’s waves.

The installation is made up of 60 buoys that capture wave energy. Each “energy buoy” is eight meters in diameter. The large size increases the function of efficiency in capturing the potential energy in each wave. Each buoy is connected to a piston mounted on the ocean floor by a flexible tether. With the upward swell of each wave, the buoy and the piston rise, allowing room for seawater to flood a large chamber. When the wave falls, the buoy and piston fall with it, pressurizing the water into pipes laid out on the ocean floor.

Back above the surface, the fleet of 15 sail ships is clustered amongst the sea of buoys. Each sail is 40 meters tall and is connected with two to seven buoys, which all send their pressurized seawater to the mechanical housing below the sail platform. The pressurized seawater turns a turbine within the housing to create sustainable energy for the Santa Monica grid.

As the waves increase in intensity, the sails above become brighter, illuminated by responsive LEDs. Visitors can relate in real time to the clean energy production and speculate on how bright the sails could become.

The bobbing of the blue and white striped buoys, the fluttering of the bright coral sails, and the people lounging in the summer sun on the wooden decks of the isolated platforms, all come together to create an elegant calm.

Visitors can take kayaks and paddle in and around the artwork. Passing the last sail, they will have reached the western extent of American settlement. But the frontier of environmentally conscience design is only just opening. Wave energy infrastructure is now embarking on a journey to a brave new future.

Breakwater Make Water

Breakwater Make Water a submission to the 2016 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition for Santa Monica

Artist Team: Elizabeth Case (University of Edinburgh)
Artist Location: Wallingford, UK
Energy Technologies: Point Absorber Buoy Wave Energy Converter (similar to Ocean Power Technologies™)
Water Harvesting Technologies: Fog Harvesting (similar to FogQuest™)
Annual Capacity: 400 MWh and 13 million liters of drinking water

Not often is there an opportunity to generate ideas for an offshore location and to create a feature that directly responds to its maritime setting. The scale of the site means it is very visible from around the whole Bay of Santa Monica, California. Breakwater – Make Water is therefore an installation that is both eye-catching and visually sensitive to its setting.

Contributing to Santa Monica’s strong identity is the fog that comes rolling in off the Pacific Ocean almost every morning. Using a technology similar to that already successfully used in projects in South America, fog-harvest netting is shaped into sails to recall the harbour that once occupied the site.

Energy generation is accomplished by way of a buoy-type wave energy converter that powers an underwater turbine by moving vertically with the waves and tides. The hull of the boat acts as the float of the buoy and the boat’s mast continues below the water to form the absorber. The turbine unit is anchored to the sea floor with a fixed deadweight, which also houses the pipe and cable infrastructure as it joins into each adjacent unit.

Sixty boats are spaced out within the site area on the far side of the breakwater. Each boat measures 24.5 meters from the base of the hull to the top of the mast and is 15 meters long. It is anticipated that the base of the hull would sit about one meter below the water level, rising and falling with a range of four meters between high and low tide. There is a minimum spacing of 10 meters between each boat to allow for efficient harvesting of fog and to provide an intermittent view of the horizon from the beach and pier.

Wind carries fog particles through the material, trapping droplets of water. Gravity then causes these droplets to fall to the base of the sails before flowing into the pipe infrastructure. Resources produced would first supply the pier and waterfront businesses.

As the sun goes down over Santa Monica Bay, the fleet of sailboats comes to life with solar-powered lights that have been charging throughout the day. The programmable LED lights can either be a static glow or cycle through color combinations, allowing for infinite creative possibilities that could tie in with the promotion of special events and holidays.