Activists on either side of the climate fight may argue whether wind turbines are eyesores or majestic beauties. Meanwhile, designers have drawn up plans for a massive solar duck for the waters around Copenhagen.
A bit like a bath toy, but instead of yellow rubber, its skin would be made of solar PV cells, and rather than bathtub-sized, it’s scaled up for a cityscape. The inspiration isn’t just the rubber duckie, but the Common Eider Duck; currently a familiar sight in Copenhagen, it’s a species at risk from climate change.
The idea – part of the Land Art Generator Competition – is just an idea at the moment. It’s art. Rooted in the belief that aesthetics and social interaction matter when it comes to renewable energy, it aims to push visionary thinking over renewable energy beyond just technical details.
All the Land Art Generator ideas are site-specific. Part of the point is that innovation in energy will only work if we work in harmony with the culture, society and the environment (built and natural). In 2012, they considered Freshkills Park, New York City. In 2010, it was Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE. 2012 ideas have included a NASA-inspired field of red solar balloons, a kinetic playground, solar baths and a collection of swaying leaves designed to reflect the Manhattan skyline and harvest both wind and solar energy, depending on the variable weather. The Copenhagen-inspired ideas also include a Viking-inspired series of giant horns built from decommissioned ships; wind turbines and sound-art at once, inviting us to consider Danish pasts and futures.
But back to the duck, which is much more than a renewable energy generator, it’s also an energy storage device and a tourist destination, a celebration of local wildlife and a piece of public art. The duck is designed not only to create and store energy, but help us see that energy in practice. Solar radiation is converted to electricity using reasonably simple, and cheap, off-the-shelf PV panels. The floating nature of the duck also offers some degree of energy storage. The nod to the Eider invites us to think about the impacts of global warming, and what we might save by responding to it. The floating height of the piece is also designed to indicate city-wide energy use: As demand peaks, it sinks. Visitors can climb inside the duck, letting them see the back of the solar PV panels’ mesh, as well as the seawater rising and falling within storage tanks.
Copenhagen is known for fairytales. The bronze Little Mermaid (Den lille havfrue) statue sits at the side of the Langelinie Promenade where many of the Land Art Generator ideas have imagined themselves. Maybe one day the Solar Duck and its ilk will be more than just stories told by designers. Or at least, maybe this bit of design-storytelling will help us imagine new, brighter, cleaner and more sustainable futures. Four years on from the first Land Art Generator, we might ask when we’re likely to see these sorts of ideas realised. I for one would like a chance to play with my renewable energy.