We were thrilled to be included at Renewable Cities Global Learning Forum a year ago. They are now checking in with Global Learning Forum alumni in a series called “The Front Line of Energy” to find out what’s shifted in their work over the past year and to hear their thoughts on the future of energy.
Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian are the Founding Directors of the Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), which works to address the issue of public acceptance of localized renewable energy infrastructures by providing models of energy generation architecture that rise to the level of contemporary public art. Every two years LAGI holds an international design competition, which has thus far been held in Dubai, New York City, and Copenhagen, and is coming to Los Angeles in 2016.
Robert and Elizabeth believe that renewables are beautiful. Their passion was on full display at our Global Learning Forum where they delivered a compelling PechaKucha presentation, a gallery of leading energy-generating art concepts from their competitions, and a session called, “Aesthetics, integration, and building support for urban renewables.”
How did participating in the Global Learning Forum impact your work?
“For us, one of the biggest benefits was participating in the PechaKucha night. It allowed us to speak to a broad audience that included policy makers, mayors, and renewable energy developers. People then recognized us for the next two days of the Forum and engaged us in dialogue—new people were opening up to us. Shortly thereafter, we did another PechaKucha in Pittsburgh!”
What’s happened in your work over the last year?
“We’re proud to say that we’ve been awarded the J.M.K. Innovation Prize [the award supports social entrepreneurs across the United States who are spearheading game-changing solutions to our society’s most urgent challenges.], which has allowed us to solidify our organizational structure.
We are expanding greatly beyond our biennial design competitions. For example, we are currently in the process of working with a fashion designer to pilot wearable renewable electricity-generating technology with a Maasai community in Kenya. It’s a co-design process that will create a line of bespoke jewelry and other products with embedded solar. The designs will improve the livelihoods of the Maasai people and bring sustainable income to the Olorgasailie Maasai Women Artisans collective.
Our second Art+Energy Camp targeting low-income neighbourhoods will be taking place in Lancaster, California, and is modeled after our successful 2015 program in Pittsburgh. We are creating opportunities for young people to learn about the design of energy infrastructure and its impact on our landscape and environment. Following tours of nuclear and coal plants, a variety of renewable energy installations, and lessons about energy science and art outside the gallery, the students will take part in the design of a 5 kWh solar energy-generating public artwork that will help power a local community centre. The students have all been very engaged and a part of every meeting—with fabricators to engineers to solar installers.”
This year, our biennial design competition is taking place at a coastal site adjacent to the historic Santa Monica Pier. This offers teams the opportunity to design with wave and tidal, in addition to wind, solar, and other renewable energy technologies. The award event will take place at Greenbuild 2016 in Los Angeles in October.
In 2015, we worked with the City of Glasgow to put together a design brief and hold a competition to create a renewable energy-generating sculpture at a brownfield site as a part of a Scottish Canals regeneration project. The idea is to use the natural energies at a site as a form generator, creating a public park and infrastructural artwork that will be the cornerstone of the developer’s master plan. Three local practices—architects, artists, and energy scientists—were paired with a past biennial participant in an invited competition. The exhibition is taking place at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, opening on June 9, 2016.”
What have been some of the biggest developments and trends in renewable energy over this past year?
“For one, the number of renewable energy installations is outpacing conventional fossil fuels. The renewable energy shift is already occurring and the prices are dropping exponentially in the marketplace. The trend lines are amazing!”
How has this affected your work?
“In the design world, the cost of solar panels per square foot is now on par with any other type of high-performance exterior material. When design is done properly from the concept stage, there is no excuse not to incorporate RE, particularly with photovoltaics. While we’ve seen a lot of companies come and go, certain markets are getting more traction and we’re optimistic. We’re at the beginning of an explosion of opportunities, especially with flexible and thin materials with roll rooftop applications coming online.”
What are the next big issues to watch?
”We are concerned with the social impacts of some large renewable energy projects that can displace people—for example, centralized energy projects cutting off grazing land for the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania. The utility-scale electricity is going to the national grid to feed Nairobi and large industry, with nothing going back to the people whose lives are disrupted. They derive no economic or social benefit. We hope that renewable energy infrastructure planning can be proactively a part of solutions to socioeconomic issues as well as environmental issues. With the capital costs of installations going down, there is an opportunity for large projects to share the benefits. Likewise, decentralized renewable energy and energy cooperatives can provide energy justice solutions while increasing resiliency.”