· February 2012

February 2012

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Augustin Mouchot’s Solar Concentrator, 1869. (source)

The history of renewable energy is fascinating. We posted a while back about early efforts to harness the power of waves. You may also be interested to learn more about the 19th century work of Mouchot and Ericsson, early pioneers of solar thermal concentrators (CSP solar thermal power).

Early schematics of Augustin Mouchot’s Solar Concentrator.

Augustin Mouchot taught secondary school mathematics from 1852-1871, during which time he embarked on a series of experiments in the conversion of solar energy into useful work. His proof-of-concept designs were so successful that he obtained support from the French government to pursue the research full-time. His work was inspired and informed by that of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (who had constructed the first successful solar oven in 1767) and Claude Pouillet (who invented the Pyrheliometer in 1838).

Augustin Mouchot’s Solar Concentrator at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, 1878. (source)

Mouchot worked on his most ambitious device in the sunny conditions of French Algeria and brought it back for demonstration at the Universal Exhibition in Paris of 1878. There he won the Gold Medal, impressing the judges with the production of ice from the power of the sun.

Unfortunately, the falling price of coal, driven by efficiencies of transport and free trade agreements with Britain, meant that Mouchot’s work would soon be deemed unnecessary and his funding was cut soon after his triumph at the Universal Exhibition.

Abel Pifre and his solar powered printing press. Image from Scientific American, May 1882. (source)

His assistant, Abel Pifre, would continue his work, however, and demonstrated a solar powered printing press in the Jardin des Tuileries in 1882. Despite cloudy conditions that day, the machine printed 500 copies per hour of Le Journal du Soleil, a newspaper written specially for the demonstration.

John Ericsson’s Solar Engines. (left image source, right image source)

Meanwhile, the great inventor and engineer John Ericsson had decided to devote the last years of his life to similar pursuits. His work on solar engines spanned the 1870s and 1880s. Instead of relying on steam, he utilized his version of the heat engine, a device that would prove very commercially successful when powered with more conventional fuel sources such as gas.

From Paul Collins’ 2002 essay The Beautiful Possibility:

“You will probably be surprised when I say that the sun-motor is nearer perfection than the steam-engine,” [Ericsson] wrote one friend, “but until coal mines are exhausted its value will not be fully acknowledged.” He calculated that solar power cost about ten times as much as coal, so that until coal began to run out, solar power would not be economically feasible. But this, to him, was not a sign of failure—there was no question that fossil fuels would indeed run out someday.

The great engineer maintained an unshakeable belief in the future of solar power to his last breath; he had set up a large engine in his backyard and was still perfecting it when he collapsed in early 1889. Though his doctor made him rest, Ericsson could not sleep at night: he complained that he could not stop thinking about his work yet to be done.

Both Mouchot and Ericsson were driven by the prescient understanding that access to coal, the predominant fossil fuel of the time, would eventually run out. And while, new discoveries of petroleum and natural gas have extended our inexpensive access to energy, we are finally now, 140 years later, reaching a time when their predictions are coming true. For the wisdom behind the premise is still as valid today as it was then—nothing that is finite can last forever. These inventors were so far ahead of their time, it is almost scary.

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We thought this opportunity may be of interest to some of you out there. Colorado Art Ranch has posted an Artist Residency in collaboration with Elsewhere Studios under the theme of Art + Energy. The location is Paonia, Colorado from July 15 through August 15, 2012. The deadline for applications is April 15, 2012. Preference will be given to visual and literary artists who currently involve energy issues in their work or would like to.

See http://coloradoartranch.org/nextresidency.htm for more information.

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The image above will take you to a high resolution graphic that spans 800,000 years. Each year is represented by one small square. Each row equals one millenium.

Time flows from the upper left to the lower right (similarly to how you are reading this text). Have fun exploring the details by zooming in and panning around. the lower right hand corner button will take you to a full screen version.

The piece is meant to provide a context for the age of fossil fuels, to illustrate the great advancements that their consumption has brought us, and to question our ability to move beyond them in a post-fossil fuel age that is rapidly approaching.

This is an expanded version of the smaller 25,000 year graphic that is available as a PDF download in the sidebar of this blog.


The Sonic Articulation of Sunbeams from Ben Moren on Vimeo.

The Sonic Articulation of Sunbeams is a renewable energy art installation by Daniel Dean, Ben Moren and Emily Stover. The piece was created for the 2011 Green Energy Art Garden at the The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis. The call to artists is still open for this year’s Green Energy Art Garden, which will be held July 13-22.

via Sundance Channel

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Les Nympheas by Claude Monet from Musee l’Orangerie, Paris

Photovoltaic panels in Lake Colignola, near Pisa. FABIO MUZZI, AFP

Marco Rosa-Clot, physicist and professor at the University of Florence, has demonstrated a floating photovoltaic power plant with wing reflectors in Lake Colignola near Pisa. The panels are mounted on a structure that is actually attached to a central column that extends to the water bed and which provides the rotation required for the panels to track the position of the Sun. The installation is somewhat reminiscent of water lilies.

Marco Rosa-Clot and his team at Colignola, near Pisa. FABIO MUZZI, AFP

From the AFP article:

“Between the use of reflectors, panel movement, and water cooling, this new type of plant is able to supply 2,000 kilowatts / hour per year for each kW installed as compared to 1,200 kilowatts / hour per year for conventional systems,” says Rosa-Clot, at the head of a small family business, the Scintec, which conducts research in various industrial sectors and the environment.

The other advantage of photovoltaics is the use of floating bodies of water left, as former quarries for example, preserving the landscape because the panels are virtually invisible.

“A typical installation, such as on roofs for example, has a strong impact on the environment and landscape. Our facilities, however, are born to be used on lakes, old quarries shallow,” said Raniero Cazzaniga, an associate of Mr. Rosa-Clot.

“His height does not exceed one meter and is generally not seen before arriving at the water’s edge. It’s not intrusive,” he said.

Ras Al Khaimah concept from 2010

We saw something similar here in the UAE a couple years ago with the Ras Al Khaimah solar island concept and prototype developed by a group of Swiss Scientists. We’re not sure what the status of that project is. Instead of PV with reflectors, they utilized fresnel CSP. But rather than the mirrors themselves rotating, which requires some complex mechanisms, the low friction of the water allowed the tracking to be done by simply rotating the entire floating system. They had developed the system for sea or land deployment.

Fluor solar power plant in Carrisa Plains, CA.

The mirrors of Marco Rosa-Clot’s design also remind us of a solar installation by Fluor. The use of mirror wing reflectors on either side of solar panels almost lends a contemporary sculptural aesthetic (a la Anish Kapoor) to the installation.

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As a part of the Land Art Generator Initiative, we have put together this free Field Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies that we hope can be a useful resource for all designers, homeowners, urban planners, students, artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and anyone else interested in a clean energy future.
(click on the image below to download the free PDF document)

It is important to note is that there is a lot more out there than what we see in the everyday. In fact, you will see here that there are dozens of proven methods of harnessing the power of nature in sustainable ways. Some of the more interesting examples that may be applicable as a medium for public art installations are the translucent thin films which can be flexible and offer interesting hues and textures, piezoelectric generators that capture vibration energy, and concentrated photovoltaics, which allow for interesting play with light. But the possibilities are endless and new designs are coming into the market all the time that can be artistically integrated into beautiful sustainable infrastructure.

It is our hope that this field guide will get you thinking creatively about ways to combine technologies and use them in innovative contexts. Through a better understanding of the wealth of possibilities that are out there, the guide will provide designers with more tools with which to conceive of net zero energy constructions.

This is a first edition. The second edition will include pros and cons, lifecycle carbon costs, and more detailed diagrams of the technologies. And we’ll continue to keep the guide updated as new technologies are researched and brought to market.

Let us know what you think.

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The Precasted Fiber Reinforced Concrete Collector by Airlight Energy is a refreshingly different design for CSP technology. It employs flexible pneumatic mirrors below and ETFE foil above, both stretched within a rigid concrete frame to create a parabolic trough system with a controlled environment that extends the life of the materials to an estimated 60 years. An integrated thermal storage system ensures 24-hour base load power.

From the outside, the heavy concrete frame reminds us of the futuristic WWII-era “Spomeniks” of Yugoslavia. One could imagine a great neo-realist film scene shot within an array of these strange animals.

Monuments at Podgaric and Mitrovica


HWKN WendyImage by HWKN

The winner of the 2012 MoMA PS1 Young Architect’s Program is a public artwork that also cleans the air of pollutants via nanoparticles. It’s another great example of solution-based artwork, or artwork that is moving beyond formative and didactic expressions and into the realm of infrastructure art. In this case, the artwork is serving the useful function of air purification, claiming a capacity equal to the removal of 260 cars from the roads. The piece will be using energy to power its multimedia interaction, so overall it is not an example of net zero energy art. But it does offset its footprint somewhat with this technological innovation.

From HWKN:

Wendy does not play the typical architecture game of ecological apology – instead she is pro-active. That is why Wendy is composed of nylon fabric treated with a ground breaking titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants. During the summer of 2012 Wendy will clean the air to an equivalent of taking 260 cars off the road. The courtyard at MoMA PS1 will be activated by tools like shade, wind, rain, music, and visual identity to reach beyond her envelope. Wendy‘s spiky arms reach out with micro-programs like blasts of cool air, music, water canons and mists to create social zones throughout the courtyard.

Hopefully the titania nanoparticle spray does not have any downside ecological effects in its complete life cycle. According to the manufacturer, PURETI, “the product received a life cycle assessment score of -70 (negative 70), making it an significantly net environmentally beneficial technology.” The FAQ on the PURETI website says that it doesn’t work on fabric though. Hopefully there is an exception to that rule for Wendy‘s nylon.

via NY Times ARTSBEAT with a hat tip to Deborah Hosking


Koichi Kamoshida/Bloomberg

We came across this beautiful image today of the mirrors at JFE Engineering Corp.’s Solar Techno Park concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It reminded us of a George Nelson Associates sofa, the Marshmallow Sofa, designed by Irving Harper and manufactured by Herman Miller between 1956-1965.

via Financial Post Energy Column
more about the JFE Engineering Solar Techno Park

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