Solutions in Deep Imagination

The Golden Institute for Energy in Colorado by Sascha Pohflepp

Sascha Pohflepp imagined a future predicated on the re-election of Jimmy Carter in 1980. In this future, there exists a think tank called, “The Golden Institute for Energy” based in Golden, Colarado, which imagines and invents new technologies to make the US the most energy-rich nation on the planet.

Capturing lightning, stealing back energy from off-ramps, and weather modification balloons are all imagined as feasible energy-generating technologies. The institute, or rather the idea of the institute, becomes a vehicle for creative and critical thought and invention, and it is more about that idea than the computer-generated images, scale models, or fake corporate videos that make Pohflepp’s project so interesting.

Rewriting and re-imagining something as huge as a national energy policy could certainly appear reckless or hopeless, but it should instead be read as hugely exciting and filled with potential. Inventing an entirely new trajectory for something so large (like say, the city of Windsor) could indeed facilitate a crucially important discussion: in the instance of Pohflepp’s project, how different would the world’s stance on climate change be if Carter had been re-elected; in the instance of imagining the future of Windsor, how bad will things get if nothing changes.

[via We Make Money Not Art]

Work Worth Doing

Now House

Work Worth Doing is an interdisciplinary design studio working to understand the intersection of design, society, and the environment. They’ve been working on retrofitting wartime homes with sustainable design and technologies, getting them down to zero energy use through affordable practices. This model would be a no-brainer for any city, but particular Windsor, which has a huge number of neighbourhoods scattered with wartime bungalows. It’s also similar to the Green Corridor’s Ecohouse initiative, which is still underway.

Oh, and by the way, this is happening in Windsor.

The Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation has 125 wartime homes in their portfolio of social housing. The Now House Project team is working with Windsor Essex CHC to design the retrofit of five houses in their portfolio to net zero energy use and greatly reduced operating costs. The houses would serve as demonstrations for the possible retrofit of the other wartime homes in the portfolio. Work Worth Doing is the head consultant on this project in Windsor, which will also involve St. Clair College students, and maybe also University of Windsor students.


Tweet-A-Watt, measuring energy usage in real-time and uploading it to Twitter

Made from a hacked Kill A Watt, a device used to measure energy usage from a power outlet, Ladyada made this real-time Twittering energy monitor. The Tweet-A-Watt can be made for around $50, and would be used in each room—your office’s power bar would have one connected to it, your living room, bedroom, etc. Check out the Twitter feed, as it reports on the energy used around every 8 hours.

A great idea, and all the better that it came out of working with existing products to make them more functional. As with many visualization and data reporting techniques though, I find there’s a bit of a gap between seeing the numbers (for example, 134.0 Watts, 4133 Wh in last 24hr, 5510 Wh previous day), and understanding what the numbers mean. Is 4133 Wh in the last 24 hours good or bad? However, at least being able to track and begin to understand the relationship between your activities and energy usage is a step in the right direction.

[via Inhabitat]

Power House Detroit

PowerHouse Detroit

I’m still trying to understand the relationship between Detroit UnReal Estate Agency and Power House (and maybe they’re the same thing and there’s no other relationship to understand), but at any rate, the Power House project is an incredible idea. In short, “The house is to act as cultural catalyst and opportunity for cultural exchanges through workshops and residencies. It will also provide lessons in wind, solar, and sustainable strategies by implementing these systems and introducing them to the community.”

Basically, there’s a neighbourhood in Detroit that has been informally adopted as a site for this cultural catalyst. Many homes in the area have been foreclosed or set on fire, or both. Empty lots are going for $500, while homes are going for $2000. So, the Power House group proposes to purchase these lots and homes and flip the area from a drain on the tax base, bank holdings, and the local economics to a community asset.

I think this could be an excellent group to connect with.

Bright Idea Shade

Bright Idea Shade from Michael Mandiberg on Vimeo.

The Bright Idea Shade from Eyebeam OpenLab’s Sustainable Action Group is a simply designed kit-assembly lampshade for compact fluorescent bulbs, which some people won’t change over to due to their harsh light or swirly design. The shade itself is made from a number of laser-cut pieces of heat-resistant photo diffuser material, each of which is identical, meaning the product itself could be easily manufactured and sold at big chain stores everywhere. Oh, and that’s their goal. The interesting thinking behind it is to make the design with a very open, Creative Commons Attribution license attached, so it can be “stolen” and recreated anywhere by anyone.

(Also, that video is a very, very good example of documenting a project.)

GOOD Magazine – Vampire Energy

GOOD Magazine has been creating a number of these short videos with great animations discussing and illustrating a variety of issues. This one, in particular, talks about “Vampire Energy,” the energy that appliances and electronics use, even if they’re in standby mode. Best practice is always to have your TV, computer, etc. connected to a power bar that can be shut off when not in use, thereby cutting the power completely.

I think the video is a good example of distributing knowledge effectively. They took existing information/data (about power consumption) and created an animation that does a better job at communicating it than a bar graph and table of numbers probably ever could.


Design E2 Documentary Series

“Could it be that we are connected to all things in the universe and not the centre of it?”

Last night I saw two episodes of E2 Design on TVO. The shows are incredibly well-done, the cinematography style alone would have been enough to have me watch an hour worth of television on nearly any topic, but the fact that the show focuses on our current/historical energy crisis/solutions made it that much better. The website for the show offers downloads of each episode in podcast form, which is highly recommended. The introduction to the show, which you should immediately hear/see playing when you go to their website is inspiring and describes a mindset that I hope becomes more widespread—that we are continually making decisions that effect more people and more things than we could ever have imagined. 

Making Energy Consumption Visible via Pasta and Vinegar

A quick entry from the always good Pasta & Vinegar highlights an instance of “revealing the invisible” in France where this large sign shows the real-time energy production of roof-top solar panels and the saved greenhouse gases. We need to be able to see, to understand, what it is we are doing by following the same consumption patterns we have for the last 25 years.

Nuage Vert

Nuage Vert - an environmental visualization project

Nuage Vert was a multi-year project that was first conceived in 2003 and eventually realized on Friday 29th February, 2008, between 7-8pm in Helsinki, Finland by the artist duo,HeHe (Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen). During this time 4,000 local residents reduced their energy consumption by 800 kVA, the equivalent of the power generated by one windmill running for one hour. Using a laser animation, data describing the power consumption of the coal power plant, was projected as an outline of the cloud onto the exhaust from the coal power plant, which grew as power consumption went down. The project was massive in scale, not only physical logistics, but also in creating partnerships between the artists, government, and business.

From HeHe’s website:

“Nuage Vert is based on the idea that public forms can embody an ecological project, materialising environmental issues so that they become a subject within our collective daily lives … Nuage Vert is ambiguous, as it doesn’t offer a simple moralistic message, but rather tries to confront the city dweller with an evocative and aesthetic spectacle, which is open to interpretation and challenges ordinary perception .. [it] alerts the public, generates discussion and can persuade people to change patterns of consumption. ”

The scope of the project is incredible in that they were able to secure the permission necessary to do the projection, as well as having access to the data of energy consumption, and the chance to make this a public event. Not that any of those things should be incredible to achieve… 

Another project that visualizes energy use: Aerophile’s Air Pollution Helium Balloon.