As climate change concerns continue to rise, we need to increase the uptake of renewable energy to help reduce the use of polluting fossil fuels. Art and creativity can work with renewable energy, too, and creative types are using innovation to contribute in their own way. Of course, art is known as one of the oldest methods of gaining public interest. Each of the artists we’ve featured has used renewable energy sculptures to highlight the possibilities of renewable energy.
There are many different types of renewable energy sources available. However, the statistics on our global use of renewable energy highlight that we still have a way to go.
In fact, 80% of the energy we use today is still non-renewable. Therefore every step to help make renewable energy more accessible has to be a good thing. Only by gaining momentum and increasing awareness can we move faster to realize the advantages of renewable energy.
As such, there is much interest in renewable energy and its applications. However, for the most part, the design of renewable energy is often less than inspiring. Think black slabs of solar roofing and white wind turbines dotting the landscape.
Therefore through creativity and sculpture, the artists below have all played a part in raising the bar of public art that highlights the importance of renewable energy.
After all, the idea of moving beyond bland slabs of black solar roofing has appeal well beyond the functional win. Through their ideas and creativity, they’ve created renewable energy sculptures that provide talking points and intrigue.
Below we highlight and celebrate some of the renewable energy sculptures that have caught our attention and interest.
(in no particular order).
Former Apple and Sony designer, Ross Lovegrove, modeled this sculpture. He created it for the Museum for Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna. The solar tree provided street lighting powered entirely by the sun. The project aimed at incorporating design, nature, and art.
Lovegrove designed the bright green stalks to bring nature into the grey sidewalks where the sculpture was placed. This sculpture served to demonstrate how we can use aesthetics to promote environmental science. MAK displayed the sculpture between 2006-2010.
This installation can be found just outside El Paso airport in Texas. It consists of an array of 16 15-ft vertical wind turbines. Each is lit from below with LED lights. The lights can even be programmed to celebrate the seasons or other events in the area.
They not only wanted to provide a visually striking gateway to the airport but also to highlight the sustainable advantages of wind energy. And these structures are not just striking. Each can generate around 1.5 kWh of energy, which helps to offset the cost of lighting the structures.
New World Wind has designed and developed “wind trees” for use by communities and businesses. Each tree consists of branches topped off by a green leaf that turns in the wind to generate renewable energy.
On their site, you can even configure a wind tree to your specification. The manufacturers claim that each wind tree can power 15 street lights or charge up an electric car for 16364 km of running. The wind tree is a product of years of research and development and the brainchild of inventor Jerôme Michaud-Larivière.
Famously the company planted two of its wind trees during the 2016 COP21, the sustainable innovation forum in Paris. They’ve since branched out to bushes and modular versions alongside the original tree, all with similar advantages of being able to generate electricity from the wind. All whilst being visually appealing and artistic additions to any public place.
Sandy Grove is at the forefront of both using and promoting solar energy use. Not only do they generate their own electricity from roof top solar cells, but they also generate 30% more than they need. Sandy Grove installed the Spotlight solar structure on school grounds as an emblem of their accomplishment.
Sandy Grove built the project in conjunction with FirstFloor, MetCon, and PowerSecure. The bright blue color was chosen to be eye-catching, helping to position Sandy Grove as a brilliant example of schools going solar. Perhaps also setting an example for companies using renewable energy too?
If you’re interested in further applications of renewable energy in schools, check out our guide on teaching renewable energy for kids. We’ve included some ideas to make renewable energy interesting and relevant as part of school curriculums too.
Elena Paroucheva is popularly known for her wind sculptures. Ondine is one of her well-recognized works. Elena created this sculpture in 2004 using copper and soldering. The sculpture took the form of a woman with what seems to be jewelry around her neck and on her wrist. A closer look will reveal that the jewelry is a set of wind turbines.
Elena’s art is designed to draw the attention of passers-by with their thought-provoking designs. She also aims to give them an artistic answer to their questions about energy consumption whilst growing awareness of the advantages of wind energy.
This award-winning design is not just an eye-catcher. It also serves as a solar power generator. Sarah Hall lined the church’s colored glass with photovoltaic cells for the production of energy. Hall, the designer, partnered with Glasmalerei Peters GmbH, solar engineer Christof Erban and architect Henry Downing.
The team estimates that the glass will collect 2500 kilowatts of electricity per year. This stained glass sits high in a Cathedral window and is aptly named Lux Gloria or ‘light of glory’.
This electric garden is truly a sight to behold. Not just because of its striking blue color, but because each sunflower is gigantic. Designers, Mags Harries, and Lajos Heder created 15 solar sunflowers for an Austin electric garden.
The energy generated from each sunflower is fed back into the grid to contribute to the city. During the day, the huge petals act as shades for passersby while absorbing solar power. At night, they light up to create a beautiful ambiance.
This sculpture is not just an artistic interpretation of renewable energy. It is also a renewable energy invention. The Sun Power Generator is a structure that generates twice the normal amount of solar energy possible with a solar panel. This also works using significantly less surface area.
The prototype is called beta.ray, and has been publicly tested. Beta.ray is captivating because of its Ball Lens, a translucent sphere through which sunlight passes. We can use this invention to charge an electric car or serve as a high-power lamp at night.
The group fondly refers to the Solar Collector as “a collaboration between the community and the sun”. Gorbet Design made this exhibition using 12 metal shafts planted on a grassy hill. The region of Waterloo commissioned the project. This sculpture is truly interactive with both the sun and people.
During the day, the panels collect solar energy. Meanwhile, people can go online to submit light patterns based on sine waves- a dance routine for the shafts. At nightfall, the shafts begin to sway and perform, using the instructions from its global online community.
Saskia is another popular installation by Elena Paroucheva. It depicts a woman covered in what appears to be purple jewelry and a hat. Upon closer inspection, we can see that the jewelry and hat are a collection of purple-colored wind turbines.
Paroucheva works to counteract the popular belief that wind turbines are big and ugly. She creates sculptures that can fit into both urban and natural landscapes. Paroucheva designed Saskia to withstand mechanical, climatic, or wind challenges.
The Verdant walk was temporarily installed in Cleveland between 2008 and 2010. This exhibition aimed to bring a green touch into the middle of an urban dwelling. The designers recreated a 4,000 square feet garden with seven green sculptures.
These sculptures also generated energy. The design team created them using solar fabric panels woven with LED (for illumination). At night, the LED would illuminate the sculptures with a soft but vivid green. The area was open for the public to walk through and enjoy not only the installation but also the beauty of nature in the surrounding parkland.
Loop.pH created this sculpture to represent Europe’s changing climate. With three spiraling vortices, the cities of Madrid, Geneva, and London were represented visually. The team connected the sculpture to a database that would feed real-time information to its control panel.
Whenever one city was experiencing significant weather change, the spirals would react. Their reaction was an animated pattern of colors. Sonumbra de Vincy was designed to draw attention to each city’s rapidly changing weather conditions.
Deedee Morrison designed The Seed Pod to give a visual representation of how solar energy works. It demonstrated the process of solar energy conversion using the pattern of how a seed pod becomes a new life. The designer, Dee Dee Morrison, is known for her ability to use art to mimic nature.
A vibrant yellow color depicts the evening bloom as the pods come to life. Renaissance Park, Tennessee, installed this sculpture for 18 months.
For his sculpture, Fred George used a symbol that is recognized globally; the symbol of peace. George created the sculpture using 80 oil barrels. Each barrel had a solar panel attached to it. Energy generated from the sculpture was fed back into the electrical grid.
George used his renewable energy sculpture to represent a need for better environmental responsibility. He also depicted the human casualties and lack of peace from oil wars in several regions.
The Sun Catcher depicted the process of solar energy conversion. During the day, the tall, yellow structure would capture sunlight and store it as energy. Later, at night, that energy would be used to illuminate the sculpture.
Morrison used the Sun Catcher to mimic the process of photosynthesis; in this way, plants store the sun’s energy, convert it to chemical energy, and blossom.
Craig Colorusso is an artist who explores how light, sound, and energy intersect. The Sun Boxes are part of his latest work. Colorusso made this installation using 20 speakers, each of which plays independent notes. Thus collectively, the boxes form a range of unique sounds as you move amongst them.
The artist powers the boxes through their individual solar panels. According to Colorusso, the public has described the Sun Boxes as soothing and energizing.
Unlike most of Paroucheva’s work, this sculpture isn’t shaped like a person. It’s a shoe. It is also adorned with accessories, which upon a closer look, are wind turbines. This sculpture serves a functional purpose, generating electricity, but also an aesthetic one.
The Shoe sits on a grassy field where Paroucheva’s vision of “an artistic answer” could come to life.
Do you know any renewable energy sculptures (from the past or still on display) which should have made this list? Share them with us and other readers in the comments section below.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.