As anyone who's ever driven by farm of wind turbines or a glittering solar plant knows, the infrastructure that powers our lives actually tends to be pretty stunning. But for a variety of reasons, it also tends to be pretty remote. If clean energy plants doubled as great public art, would we care about them more?
That's the idea behind The Land Art Generator Initiative, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit that encourages the creation of public art with what it calls "an added benefit": utility-scale clean energy generation. Every two years, LAGI hosts a design competition to design a building, structure, or device that responds to that question—and every year, dozens of teams come up with supremely clever ideas to answer it.
This year is no different, with three teams of designers proposing fascinating installations along the coastline of Copenhagen (this year's site). Check them out below.
A Sprawling Installation That Turns Sun Into Steam Power
The winning proposal, by an Argentinian designer named Santiago Muros Cortés, takes the competition's brief (to make energy in art) very literally. In this case, the "art" on display is an incredibly concentrated beam of sunlight reflected by hundreds of heliostatic mirrors. This beam heats a "heat transfer liquid" at the centre of the installation to over 600 degrees, and this in turn is used to transform water to steam... which powers a turbine.
The process itself should sound familiar, since heliostats are used across the world to collect solar energy, and steam turbines have been around for centuries. But Cortés is using it in a unique way. The structure that supports these carefully curved mirrors (a curved steel and alumiinum cup) is tensioned over the base from a series of columns on the edge of the installation. The resulting tent-like pavilion becomes a public space at the edge of the water: half park, half promenade, with 7,500 MWh of power thrown in every year.
A Field of Biograss
Walking across the "lawn" of the second place proposal, designed by Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz, you'd notice the grass isn't quite right. In fact, it's not normal grass at all: it's Miscanthus grass, a so-called "energy crop" that yields biomatter for biofuels that extraordinarily high rates.
And then there's the tower: its striated facade looks sculptural, but in fact, it's series of cylinders covered in windbelts. What's a windbelt? It's a cheap, inexpensive, and novel kind of generator dreamt up by an inventor working in Haiti in 2007. Rather than use complex mechanisms to turn wind into electricity, it uses two very simple components: a pair of magnets that vibrate between pieces of metal when a breeze hits them, which creates energy from very low-wind speed "fluttering". That's perfect for the coastline of Copenhagen and it doesn't hurt that these membrane-encased magnets create beautiful, bizarre patterns on the facade of the tower.
According to Góra and Gryszkiewicz, it could power a total of 250 homes in the area.
Disneyland for Clean Energy Tech
Italian designers Antonio Maccà and Flavio Masi, the third place winners, envisioned something you might, for lack of a better phrase, call an amusement park for renewable energy: a coastline habitat hosting a huge number of distinct systems, like vertical axis wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, and oscillating piezo-electric energy systems (seen above). Each wide ring hosts a different one of these systems, totalling six unique "habitats" for renewable energy.