Architects and designers have an enormous half to play within the photo voltaic revolution, however additionally they want to search out methods to scale back our vitality consumption total, writes Making Design Round founder Katie Treggiden.
This 12 months has seen a glut of solar-powered design tasks, from headphones and watches to bikes and even the “first production-ready photo voltaic automotive”. And in the present day will mark the launch of the inaugural Photo voltaic Biennale within the Netherlands – an initiative from self-described “photo voltaic designers” Marjan van Aubel and Pauline van Dongen that goals to have interaction creatives within the renewable vitality transition. So has solar energy lastly reached a tipping level?
We have been listening to concerning the second that photo voltaic vitality will go mainstream for many years now. In 2011, Nationwide Geographic printed an article by renewable vitality skilled Daniel M Kammen, wherein he claimed that photo voltaic vitality was now the “quickest rising supply of electrical energy technology”, all whereas cautioning that geopolitical tensions between China and the US would possibly dampen its potential.
In 2021, photo voltaic lastly grew to become the most cost effective supply of electrical energy globally
The next 12 months, Inexperienced Age advised us “the solar energy tipping-point is coming”, defining that time as “the second when photo voltaic produces energy on the similar worth as electrical energy from the grid” – often known as grid parity. Almost a decade later in 2021, photo voltaic lastly grew to become the most cost-effective supply of electrical energy globally.
However now a excellent storm of things – together with final 12 months’s lengthy, chilly winter, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and dwindling UK gasoline reserves – has despatched vitality costs skyrocketing, making everyone take a protracted onerous take a look at inexperienced and regionally produced vitality. So, are we really prepared for a photo voltaic revolution? And if we’re, what position can designers and designers play in realising the true potential of this clear and renewable useful resource?
One of many key points, in keeping with the founders of the Photo voltaic Biennale, is democratising entry to solar energy. “To facilitate a shift in our notion in direction of photo voltaic, it additionally must be extra accessible to a bigger group of individuals,” van Aubel advised Dezeen final 12 months.
Her photo voltaic lamp Sunne (high picture) is designed to hold in home windows and mimic the altering gentle profile exterior from dawn till sundown, powered by photovoltaic cells on its reverse.
Elsewhere, Central Saint Martins design graduate Mireille Steinhage has developed a solar-powered heated blanket, which she goals to retail for lower than £10. This has additional resonance for the UK’s impending value of dwelling disaster, wherein many individuals are anticipated to face a selection between “consuming and heating” this winter.
Design has a task to play in growing efficacy, too. By mimicking the wing construction of the rose butterfly, which has advanced over tens of millions of years to soak up warmth from the solar, scientists have been in a position to create skinny movie photo voltaic cells that outperform conventional fastened photo voltaic panels at a a lot decrease value because of tiny holes on their floor that scatter the sunshine.
Researchers in Australia have even developed a photo voltaic paint that may take up water and use the vitality from the solar to separate the vapour and generate hydrogen – arguably the cleanest vitality supply of all. By taking inspiration from nature and collaborating with scientists and engineers, designers can take one thing that’s often high-tech and costly and make it extra stunning, simpler and extra accessible. However none of this addresses the elephant within the room, the truth that world electrical energy demand is rising sooner than renewables.
Inexperienced vitality provides are projected to “develop strongly world wide over the following two years”, in keeping with an Worldwide Power Company (IEA) report from July 2021. “However even with this sturdy progress, renewables will solely be capable of meet round half the projected improve in world electrical energy demand over these two years,” the report concluded. The opposite half of the demand must be met by fossil fuels. So at the same time as renewables develop, we’re nonetheless utilizing extra fossil fuels as a result of we’re utilizing extra vitality total.
The world we have to think about entails greater than a easy change of vitality sources
The case for shifting to inexperienced vitality is evident, very similar to the numerous position architects, designers and makers must play on this transition – each by way of designing merchandise and buildings which might be powered by renewables and in bringing concerning the mandatory cultural shifts.
However maybe the design trade has an excellent greater, extra vital half to play. Environmental marketing consultant Mark Shayler says that “creativity is nothing greater than imagining a world that hasn’t arrived but”. The world we have to think about entails greater than a easy change of vitality sources. The design trade must think about a world the place we use much less vitality, full cease.
City planners can design tree-filled cities which might be a pleasure to stroll and cycle by means of to scale back our reliance on vehicles – electrical, solar-powered or in any other case. And so they can go additional, as demonstrated by the Fab Cities mannequin, which asks us to reimagine the basic programs we depend on and conceive of cities that produce every little thing they want utilizing round fashions of fabrication, with information being the one factor that has to journey between cities.
Architects can create buildings which might be heated and cooled passively with out the necessity for radiators or air-con. Tasks like Disharee Mathur’s passive cooling tiles, created from waste sanitaryware in Jaipur, will make a much bigger distinction than solar-powered air-conditioning models. Buildings which have bicycle storage as an alternative of automotive parks, neighborhood vegetable gardens as an alternative of lawns and rooftop working tracks as an alternative of basement gyms will all assist to scale back our vitality utilization.
We want a transition to inexperienced vitality (and we want it quick) however we additionally want a lot greater than that
Experiential designers will help us fall in love with the thought of travelling regionally, slowly and extra mindfully, as an alternative of merely jetting off to far-flung locations. Industrial designers could make easy modifications to digital units in order that they change off when not in use and are extra simply repaired. And makers and craftspeople can present us the sluggish worth of the handmade versus the mass-produced and accessible on next-day supply.
We want a transition to inexperienced vitality (and we want it quick) however we additionally want a lot greater than that, which the organisers of the Photo voltaic Biennale recognise. “What defines photo voltaic design is that it’s far more than a manner to offer sustainable vitality,” they are saying. “Photo voltaic design shapes new relationships between individuals and their setting.”
It’s right here that architects, designers and makers have the largest position to play – in imagining a world that hasn’t arrived but, a world wherein individuals recognise their interconnected relationships with their setting and construct their lives, areas and programs accordingly.
Katie Treggiden is an creator, journalist, podcaster and keynote speaker championing a round method to design. She can also be the founder and director of Making Design Round, a membership neighborhood for designer-makers who wish to get to really feel pleased with contributing to a thriving planet with each product they make. She can also be a Dezeen Awards choose.
Photo voltaic Revolution
This text is a part of Dezeen’s Photo voltaic Revolution collection, which explores the various and thrilling doable makes use of of photo voltaic vitality and the way people can totally harness the unimaginable energy of the solar.