Sustainable energy, indeed, can be beautiful. However, the beauty of a project superficially conceals a vital flaw of sustainable energy- the problem of inefficiency. Current technology for sustainable solar energy boasts an efficiency level of 15-20%. This means that a mere 20% of the total energy from the sun is converted into actual electricity. What happens to the remaining 80%? It is irretrievably “lost,” much of it dissipating as heat; if a panel were 100% efficient, there would be no heat given off.
The theme of our submission is “Inefficiency can be beautiful.” We want to show that energy is never “lost”; it is only transformed into unusable forms. By focusing on heat, we intend to visualize these transformations—our installations will illustrate the beautifully dynamic process of heat generation, thus affecting the landscape while providing enough electricity to power a small neighborhood.
The installations will be semi-transparent vertical solar panel walls spiraled around existing closed gas caps.
This distribution is the result of form studies emphasizing the gas cap at the center. The now obsolete caps, which used to extract natural gas from decomposing trash, are vestiges of the previous landfill, and we intend our panel organization to commemorate this history. There is no set site within the park; however, we consider the circular collection of panels as one module that can be centered around any gas cap. This should allow for more flexibility in the installation process.
The form of each panel suggests our intention to fold up a thin layer of land to reveal the landfill beneath, which is represented as the concrete base. The bases appear to be placed inside the ground because of an added thin layer of soil. Originally conceived as a rectangular base, the final triangular form was chosen to represent nature healing over, as the grass grows over the man-made structure. The triangles also orient themselves to point to the closest landfill caps, as another tribute to the site’s history.
In order to achieve transparency, we intend to utilize Kyosemi Coporation’s line of Sphelar photovoltaic cells, which uses an interlaced system of tiny spheres to convert sunlight into electricity. The Sphelar products have a range of transparency achieved by the density of the Sphelar cells, which allows us to customize the effect of our installations. In addition to transparency, Sphelar cells also capture incident sunlight at steeper angles than conventionally possible with planar solar cells, which allows us greater flexibility in orienting our panels. We have also consulted Chameleon International, who is currently manufacturing the fascinating ChroMyx film. It is a heat sensitive material that can change color with a rise or drop in temperature. They have a line of fabrics that change to a color from a transparent state. There is also a complex spectrum of the material’s heat tolerance, which allows us to control when and how the color changes. Sphelar cells within the walls will produce electricity and trigger the ChroMyx, behind the walls, to display a dynamic visualization of transient heat loss.
This project is devoted to minimizing its environmental impact, down to its very components. The Sphelar cells utilize silicon in a more efficient manner than planar cells by eliminating “Kerf loss” caused by slicing silicon ingots into wafers, and the Chromyx fabric has no harmful additives and is heavy metal free, phthalate free and RoHS compliant. Our project’s novel solar installations therefore have a minimal carbon footprint and generate electricity in a clean, zero-emissions process that is characteristic of green energy.
The installations add an aesthetic appeal to energy generation. However, the aesthetic component also serves as a reminder of what we have yet to attain. The solar panel's transformative color changes are representative of our current inability to use all of the sun's radiated energy. Instead of converting this energy into electricity, its usable form, our installations create aesthetic energy in the form of color. Our device thus serves as an artistic unit of measure for inefficiency through the degree of color change. As the future of solar technology advances and solar panels become more efficient, the ratio of usable to aesthetic energy will increase, one day, resulting in the complete disappearance of the color effect so that our field of once beautiful heat loss will ironically become colorless usable energy—the definition of efficiency.