· March 2010

March 2010

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Another story appeared yesterday, this time about large solar installations in the desert landscape of the American Southwest.

“Solar energy has caused a lot of consternation within the environmental community because 10 years ago, probably every person who said they were an environmentalist would have said solar energy is great, we should have all the solar energy we need,” Brown said.

“But now people who live in the desert, who say they are environmentalists, when these plants are going to be plunked around them in their community, say ‘Whoa, wait a minute. That’s not what I meant. I don’t want to live next to a big, electrical, generating facility. It’s ugly.'”

So let’s provide some options that are not so ugly!


Drzach & Suchy have designed the most perfect decorative fusion between art and solar energy collection. Solar modules are attached to a South-facing building facade at their side edge so that they cast a shadow below. They are arranged as the pixels of an image. During the day as the sun moves across the sky, the shadow created by the many piksols completes the image. They can be arranged at 45 degree angles so that one image shows during the morning and another in the afternoon. In between they form a sort of abstracted combination of the two. Though they do not suggest it, the piksols could be lit at night with building lights from below to create an interesting variation. The video is a really great illustration.


via Inhabitat

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This solar power installation design by RAFAA Architecture and Design with built-in pumped water energy storage is able to regulate its energy capacity by siphoning off excess electricity to pump water into a holding tower. Then, as the sun is set or behind the clouds, the water is released as required to keep the energy flowing into the grid by harnessing the stored energy (mass+force of gravity) with turbines along its fall. It is almost as if Olafur Eliasson had modified his New York City Waterfalls project for a Land Art Generator Initiative design. It is conceived to help power the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and we really hope that it can get built.


It’s not very easy with the resolution of the images that are available online to read the details of how it works. My only question is that it seems that there may not be enough water storage capacity at the top of the waterfall structure to sustain a prolonged deluge as might be required to keep the energy going over long periods without sunlight. It may have been better to use one of Rio’s many existing bare-rock cliff faces, which could house a large reservoir at its peak that could potentially be emptied for cloudy days on end. But it’s still a great concept as is. The iconic form of it rising above the earth wouldn’t be there in my suggested alteration.


via Inhabitat

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Matt Francis and his research colleagues at The University of California at Berkley have engineered a tobacco plant virus that has evolved to created electrical energy from solar radiation.

When injected with an engineered virus, tobacco plants are forced to create artificial chromophores.

The virus, when injected does naturally what would be nearly impossible to do by engineering the tobacco plant itself. They go into each cell within the plant (as viruses naturally do) and tinker with the cell to make it start the chromophore production. These chromophores then are harvested from the plants, extracted and sprayed onto a glass substrate panel for use. The spray would have to be re-applied every so often. While much less efficient than the standard 10-40% for standard silicon or CIS based solar cells (they may operate at 3-5%), they are also extremely inexpensive and easy to produce in large quantities. Actual production is many years down the road as the research is still in the concept stage.

The idea of spray-on photovoltaic material has obvious applications in sculptural form. Complex geometries could be transformed into electrical generating machines. There may be interesting qualities of the reflection of light off of these spray on chromophores.

via treehugger and discovery


Beacon Power Corporation has just completed the first installation of its technology at a wind farm in Tehachapi, California. The system will provide frequency regulation for the energy that is produced by the wind so that it is modulated for reliable grid use. When the wind is blowing the flywheels will take on excess capacity, acting as a load on the system. That energy is used to spin the flywheels to as fast as 16,000rpm or twice the speed of sound. As the wind energy slows, this energy is then captured back out of the flywheel via its own internal generator. Each flywheel starting from full rotation has the capacity to power a typical house for a day. They are arranged in series, each one a little over a meter in diameter and 3 about meters tall.
Beacon Power’s news release on the installation is here.




Could be the near future for offshore wind turbines? SWAY turbines are as large as 10MW (so far) each and they pivot to follow the wind direction. This movement ability with the wind allows the blades to be larger (less torque on the supporting shaft). It will be a beautifully choreographed display of synchronized bobbing out in the open waters. More information about SWAY here.


And the extra good news comes as a buried lead in an article about some recent MIT research that suggests that enough offshore wind turbines could have the added side result of lowering global temperature. This could cool the planet to offset the estimated warming from greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, the potential of cooling too far would have to be well considered. But land-based turbines have an overall warming effect (the title of the article) so perhaps a nice balance could be achieved to the perfect effect?


We are getting closer from the standpoint of the commercial marketplace. I’d guess that we are already there if you factor in “hidden” externalized costs like pollution, subsidization of land use, and the irreversible destruction of ecological systems.

This graphic that was made by 1366 Technologies (via Professor Emanuel Sachs at MIT) is very promising:


via inhabitat

via inhabitat:


A new wind technology using wind belts rather than rotating turbines promises exciting prospects for aesthetic installations. I could see the adaptation of this idea for a LAGI installation. Modules of Humdinger energy producing armatures as the medium for a new public art and sculptural form!

Instead of using conventional geared, rotating airfoils to pull energy from the wind, the Windbelt(tm) relies on an aerodynamic phenomenon known as aeroelastic flutter (‘flutter’). While the the phenomenon is a well-known destructive force (e.g. a cause of bridge failure), researchers at Humdinger have discovered that it can also be a useful and powerful mechanism for catching the wind at scales and costs beyond the reach of turbines.

Sketch examples of the technology employed on a large scale can be found on Humdinger’s website.



The 10MW tower is designed to be as much an aesthetic renewable energy power plant as it is a habitable skyscraper. The tower creates energy through the three systems—a 5MW horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT), a 3MW concentrated solar power armature (CSP) and a 2MW solar updraft tower (SU). By producing more than 10 times the amount of energy than its own demand load it is able to contribute significantly to the power load demand of the surrounding neighborhood.


The Al Quoz neighborhood in Dubai is an eclectic mix of light industrial factories, car dealerships, shopping outlets, art galleries, and single family residences. All of these buildings set a fairly common roof datum of 3-4 stories or approximately 12 meters. The podium of the 10MW Tower is designed to fit into this fabric with storefronts on the sidewalk on the East, South, and West sides. The North side is given over to a monumental tower entrance along Sheikh Zayed Road. The tower’s 130,000m2 (GFA) on fifty stories could contain offices and/or residences while the 3-story podium will be given over to restaurants and retail establishments.


The 10 megawatt measurement is the capacity of the tower. Based on local meteorological data the 3MW CSP and 2MW SU will operate for 2,400 hours per year. The 5MW HAWT would be operational for approximately 1,600 hours per year and much of that operation will be during the night when the other two systems are inoperable. The yearly output then of the building will be approximately 20,000MWh. The estimated embodied energy in the structure, the finishes and the construction of the 130,000m2 (GFA) building is estimated at 360,000MWh and the tower will neutralize its entire existence impact in less than 20 years through the clean energy it will generate—the first skyscraper ever to do so.


The shape of the South facade of the tower is derived from the geometry that provides each of the 1,600 4m2 heliostatic mirrors with an unobstructed reflection path to the central collector. Inside the central collector, molten salt is heated by the mirrors to 500°C to generate steam.


While the mirrors also act as shading devices to the South facade, they are not continuous and are place far enough apart so that they can turn freely as they track the sun. The solar energy that passes between them to strike the surface of the double curtain wall heats the interstitial space as in a greenhouse. In this 750mm wide air space, the heated air will make its way to the chimney outlet at the top of the 600m tall tower spire where the ambient air temperature is low enough to bring about a significant wind speed in the chimney—enough to turn the blades on the 2MW capacity turbine.


Both the solar updraft and concentrated solar power technologies have been proven at the scales incorporated into the 10MW tower, though the application on the tower sees them working in a vertical orientation rather than their typical horizontal position along the ground. The 5MW horizontal axis wind turbine is no different than the ubiquitous turbines with 80m diameter spans typically seen on their own support structures.


By placing the 10MW Tower in what is perhaps the only empty block of its size in the Al Quoz neighborhood, the clear access to sunlight on all sides is guaranteed. The site is oriented with the South side facing the low-lying neighborhood and the North side facing the primary transportation corridor for the city of Dubai—SZR and the Dubai Metro. The simple international style modern storefront architecture of the podium matches the adjacent 3-story commercial architecture along Sheikh Zayed Road.

The site is important from a conceptual view as well. Currently the Al Quoz neighborhood is an eclectic mix of utilitarian and vernacular aesthetics. Nothing in this part of town is what could be considered “high-end”, although there are some very trendy furniture stores nestled into the SZR commercial storefronts (e.g. Bo Concept) as well as a few exotic car dealerships. The bold placement of such an object/destination building in this location—nestled across from manufacturing buildings and other urban viscera—creates a stimulating discourse of duality. It is not in conflict with its surroundings but rather establishes a hierarchical relationship with them much in the same way as the old villa in Naguib Mahfouz’s The Children of Gebelawi acts as an almost magical emblem of protection and wonderment.

The roof of the podium is planted as a garden and provides a beautiful respite for those who visit, work or live in the tower. The irrigation for the podium garden comes from the condensate of the building’s air handling units.

The sun’s path across the sky and the geometry of the angle of incidence on the mirrors locations both work together to create the form of the South façade.

In the North-South section, the resultant shape is a parabola which affords a clear path of travel for the beams of light towards the collector. The 1,600 parabolic mirrors track the sun and provide an unobstructed reflection from sunrise to sunset.

The mirrors serve as shading devices to the facade which is further protected from solar heat gain by the double curtain wall. This wall creates a greenhouse effect which continuously drafts upward in a massive chimney effect, passively cooling the building and running a 2MW wind turbine.

The total 10MW combined electricity output of the tower is the equivalent required to power 5,000 households.

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This is a great performance concept and a very interesting and beautiful intersecting of art and technology.

Performances with Electroacoustic Clothes (pdf link)

Benoît Maubrey is the director of DIE AUDIO GRUPPE a Berlin-based art group that build and perform with electronic clothes. Basically these are electro-acoustic clothes and dresses (equipped with amplifiers and loudspeakers and solar cells) that make sounds by interacting thematically and acoustically with their environment. For example the SOLAR BALLERINAS use—among other electronic instruments—light sensors that enable them to produce sounds through the interaction of their movements and the surrounding light (PEEPER choreography). Via movement sensors they can also trigger electronic sounds that are subsequently choreographed—or “orchestrated”—into musical compositions as an “audio ballet ” (YAMAHA choreography). A variety of other electronic instruments (mini-computers, samplers, contact microphones, cassette and MP3 players, and radio receivers) allow them to work with the sounds, surfaces, and topographies of the space around them in a variety of solo or group choreographies.

For videos, pdf catalogs, photos and texts of performances and installations, click here.

Audio Gruppe on youtube: SOLAR BALLERINA


We at the Land Art Generator Initiative are big fans of John King’s idea for the old span of the Bay Bridge. His opinion article in yesterday’s SF Chronicle lays out scenarios for wind turbines and PV panels on the old span as a monument to the 21st century. Perhaps we should have a design competition? John King writes:

Imagine, for instance, that experimental wind turbines dotted the structure, corkscrews whirling in the stiff afternoon wind. Or a thin-sliced row of photovoltaic solar panels stretched across the top of the span, harvesting the sun on all but the foggiest days.

None of this is in the works, of course: The $6.3 billion budget for the new eastern span includes $240 million to remove the 1.9-mile structure that exists. Some pieces will be preserved as high-tonnage keepsakes. Most will probably end up on a slow boat to China, with scrap metal yards as the final destination.


Goumbook has launched officially today!
Change from a consumer into a congoumer!

Goumbook is the place to go to source every sort of eco-friendly product in the Middle East.

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