Are you among those who think that the subject of renewable power is tedious and that the glass and metal of solar panels look hideous on a piece of land?
Then it’s time for you to rethink. There are artists around the globe who have turned solar panels into a canvas for expressing their creativity. Not only do these brilliant pieces of artistic expression puts stress on the innovative use of solar energy, but they also focus on the spiky subject of solar panel recycling.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of the best solar power artwork from around the world.
1. The Solar Flower
You guessed it right. This is a solar panel array designed like a flower.
Not just any flower, though! The Smartflower is a ground-mounted solar panel system that’s packed with smart features. The mechanical design unfurls the 12 petals (or panels) in the morning and tracks the sun all through the day to ensure optimized power generation.
Come sundown, and the array of panels will fold up on their own. An additional cool feature – the panels have brushes that clean themselves automatically at the end of the day. So, no more hassles about cleaning the panels. And you can control the device through a smartphone app.
Now, each Smartflower has a dual-axis tracker. That means it can move from east to west and also from north to south. This helps it to maintain a constant 90-degree angle to the incident sun rays. Technically, the Smartflower solar panel will produce 40% more power than traditional solar panels.
Interestingly, the design is a favorite among students. The Smartflower has been installed in locations like Trinity High School in Washington, the Saskatoon Industry Education Council Canada, and the University of Northern Colorado.
It was designed and is being sold and installed by the eponymous company, which means that you and I can get one. On the downside, the elegant design comes at a premium price. So for homeowners looking for a solar installation on a budget, the Smartflower is not a practical choice.
Its artistic aspect is still striking enough to inspire a host of similar projects around the world.
2. Little Sun
A cute little solar lamp doesn’t sound like much. But if you are one of nearly 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to electricity, it could mean the world to you.
This is a project that comes under the umbrella of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). As per the company, their product is designed around Goal 7 which states – “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”
Basically, it is a solar light with a bright yellow casing shaped like the sun. The backside has a monocrystalline solar panel that gets charged in around 5 hours. It delivers 50 hours of light at the low setting and 4 hours at the brightest setting.
The light comes with a lanyard that allows you to hang it around the neck. Since it weighs just half a pound, you barely feel it. While you may prefer waiting for a solar headlamp to arrive in the market to carry around in your backpack, children love the Little Sun.
Around 762,223 solar lamps were sold or distributed in various off-grid locations. These include remote locations in rural Africa, like the Somali region of Ethiopia. In fact, the company claims that the distribution of these solar lamps has improved the academic performance of school-age children from grades 2-6.
Unlike other brands, Little Sun has also released data about its own carbon footprint, which was 1,637 tons of CO₂ in 2019. Considering that it prevented the emission of 109,198 tons of CO₂ in the same year, the company is definitely shining the lamp on the reduction of global emissions.
Better yet, solar lamps aren’t the only thing they do. They also organize and support solar art hubs and centers such as the Lab’Oratoire des Imaginaires in Senegal.
Or mural painting sessions such as this one!
3. Colored Solar Panels
Say goodbye to those dull solar panels with a lifeless black or blue look. Kameleon Solar is a Dutch brand that offers solar panels in over 4000 colors that are digitally printed. While the patterns are hexagonal and pixelated, onlookers from a distance will notice a homogenous colored surface on the decorative solar roof panels.
And don’t think the design reduces the lifespan of the panels. The panels will still last around 30 years, which is as good as panels from the top brands. The power generated will depend on the panel color. It varies between 3.3 – 4.7 Wp per cell.
The surface is scratch-resistant and the company mentions that the colors will last for 100 years. You can choose between single-color panels or a Metalliq design that changes color when viewed from different angles. Using special quality glass, the Metalliq design produces a shimmering look that reflects 9 colors.
Lastly, It’s possible to mix and match the colors too. You can choose your own design to customize a panel and fix its dimensions as per your requirement.
4. The Energy Tree
Did you know that trees grow their branches in direct relationship with the Fibonacci sequence?
Well, that’s one of the many amazing ways nature uses Fibonacci sequence.
The Energy Tree is based on a design by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which in turn uses the work of a 13-year-old school kid. The tree design collects sunlight more efficiently and takes less space than flat panels. That makes it great for urban spaces where direct sunlight is not easily found.
If you have ever worked with metals, you’ll know that bending metal structures into streamlined 3D shapes isn’t an easy task. This is where artistic excellence went hand in hand with community collaboration to develop the project.
The design and fabrication of this futuristic-looking solar power artwork was done by John Packer, a Bristol-based artist. Members of the Bristol Drugs Project – a charity that works with people recovering from drug abuse – played an important role in setting up the sculpture.
The Energy Tree was set up in Bristol’s Millenium Square back in 2015. Recently, the 36 solar panels of the 15-foot tree were updated with more efficient panels. Not only living and breathing trees can grow!
And this tree not just helps you to charge your phone, but it also acts as a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
5. Steel Solar Electric Sculptures
Michael Jantzen is a Los Angeles based architect who is well-known for various pieces of architecture related to sustainability. While some of his work may look bizarre, others look like something emerging right out of a science-fiction movie. Overall, there are plenty of innovative and eye-catching structures that he has developed over the years.
“If the art is designed well, it can be used in a very effective way to celebrate the use of alternative energy in the built environment,” Jantzen told The Overview magazine. Indeed, his works are one of the best examples of the integration of public art with concepts of renewable energy.
One of his most famous pieces of public art looks like a robot on two legs that is ready to walk away any moment. On the top of the two steel legs, is a single solar panel that can connect with the grid.
The minimalistic design of the solar sculpture allows the sculpture to fit into any urban setting where they can also act as charging stations. The structures can be produced in small, medium, and large sizes, based on space availability.
6. Designer Solar Panels Depicting Vitruvian Man
Among other things, Leonardo da Vinci is praised for having devised one of the world’s first solar power systems. Looks like it’s only fair for his work to be reproduced on a solar array!
Invent is an Italian manufacturer of PV panels founded in 2006. The brand has some of the most beautiful PV modules that you will find on the market. You can pick from multiple designs that can be used as patterns and graphic motifs on high-quality multi-layer solar panels. Or else, you can supply your own design.
In one of their installations, the company imprinted the image of one of the famous paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man, over 40 solar panels.
Honestly, that is one of the best examples of solar panel art I have ever seen.
A special feature of the brand is its patented InvisibleCell Technology. This makes all the electrical connections in the panel invisible, which enhances the overall aesthetics. These panels can be mounted on the roof or on the walls of a building.
Besides, the company is also a member of the non-profit organization PV Cycle which specializes in tailor-made waste management solutions for the solar industry. So recycling the panels once they are beyond their life span is not an issue.
And another thing…
Invent also has a patented technology called Floor, for manufacturing walkable photovoltaic tiles.
7. The Seed-Pod
The Seed Pod is the brainchild of artist Dee Dee Morrison and is located on the Xavier University campus in New Orleans. It’s made from powder-coated aluminum with intricate laser carvings that represent the connection between technology and the natural world.
Morrison loves the contrast between hard metal surfaces with graceful designs. In her view, this brings together the masculinity of metals like steel and aluminum with delicate designs that represent the feminine.
“Solar light sculpture in a public art environment are extremely effective ways to demonstrate how solar energy works and can become an icon of sustainability for a city,” she says.
The design of this solar powered sculpture also finds inspiration from the drawings of Ernst Haeckel, the German naturalist. Morrison used the concept of new life emerging from the dormant form of a seed pod. Yellow LEDs are used to light up the sculpture. No prizes for guessing that the yellow hue represents the sun!
8. Solar Mural
Solar Murals are another beautiful solar panel customization feature. The world’s first solar mural was inaugurated in San Antonio by Land Art Generator. Named La Monarca, this beautiful image of a Monarch butterfly is printed on a special solar-energy-producing film. The film allows light to pass through it and strike the panel surface to generate electricity.
The solar film is a product of Sistine Solar and was designed by MIT engineers. The best part is, you can use these films on any traditional solar array to transform its looks and they have a lifespan of over 30 years.
A series of similar murals was planned for various locations around the city including the popular tourist destinations. Similar solar panel art was also placed in various locations along the migration route of Monarch butterflies. The focus was on species extinction from global warming and the importance of switching to renewable energy.
Another Solar Mural depicting the continuity of life in the community for over a century was also placed in the JT Brackenridge Elementary School in San Antonio. Even the young residents of the neighborhood came forward for the installation of the mural, making it a community endeavor.
9. SunGlacier Project
How about a futuristic sculpture that uses solar power to perform magic? Say generating water from thin and dry air.
Welcome to the concept of The SunGlacier project by artist Ap Verheggen. The idea of “harvesting water from air” may sound like pure science fiction, but it is now a reality. With a motto that promotes the concept of “Art meets Science”, the brand uses breakthrough technology for optimizing the use of natural elements.
The basic concept uses sunlight, air, and gravity to produce potable water in any location. This is a giant step in managing global resource challenges and one of the best innovations in using solar power in recent times.
As an exhibit, the team set up a rain shower at the Dubai World Expo of 2020, generating around 800 liters of water in a day from the dry desert air. The cold air generated from the shower was used to cool the interiors of the building.
The device was placed on the roof of the Netherlands pavilion and was part of a giant Food Cone. The Cone was a larger structure lined with more than 3000 edible plants. The light needed for the plants came through an array of solar panels. The entire solar-powered structure presented a complete picture of environmental sustainability.
And a few years down the line, expect a SunGlacier water-generating backpack to hit the market. No more carrying water bottles while traveling!
10. Solar Sound
No, I am not talking about the sound emerging from the Sun captured by Nasa. I am talking of solar-powered loudspeakers and DJ booths. Admittedly, it’s not exactly solar powered art, but a significant step towards cultural sustainability goals.
When we think of cultural events or music festivals, eco-friendly is not the term that comes to mind. But that’s changing, thanks to some game-changing technical developments.
Pikip Solar Speakers has developed solar-powered loudspeakers where high-quality acoustics pairs with an environmentally friendly design. These are modular systems that run on solar power and can be used off-grid. These systems are already being used in major festivals like We Love Green and Les Vieilles Charrues in France.
The challenge was to modify the traditional speakers that consume too much energy to run on solar panels. As Julien Feuillet, the founder of Pikip, explained to DJMag, “(…) we discovered something called a horn speaker, which produces a huge, powerful sound using much less energy.”
These booths can deliver ten to twelve hours at full acoustic capacity after the panels are fully charged. That means you don’t need fuel-powered generators or additional electricity access for a cultural event.
At the moment, the capacity of the systems makes them best for small and medium-sized events. But with the sustainability message delivered, expect more advanced products to come up in the future.