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Austin’s Solar Sunflowers

A while ago I wrote about the Solar Sunflowers that are installed on the rear end of a retail park in Austin.  They’re large beautiful structures that you can see on I-35 as you drive by a certain Home Depot.  Here’s the aerial view:

I have always wanted to see these things up close and personal, so when Leia and I were driving down I-35 to hook up with some friends for SXSW we sort of spotted them from the highway.  It’s pretty fantastic to see something like this after you’ve researched it – the experience was awesome.  It’s also nice to be able to have a light nerd freakout around my wife.

The photovoltaics for these units are built into the structure of each of the 15 flowers; they in themselves are functioning art.  During the day, the sun shines through the PV material, which has some blue poly edges that create beautiful blue light in the shadows.  At night the sunflowers’ stamen-like LED arrays illuminate the face of the PV panel with deep blue light.  Beautiful!

Austin’s Solar Sunflower Garden, off off I-35 – JimOnLight.com from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Solar Blossoms in Austin – SunFlowers, An Electric Garden

I’ve not been to Austin a lot – a few times for working and visiting – but this is the kind of project I would want to see if I lived there.  Meet the SunFlowers, a photovoltaic sculpture garden that collects solar energy and turns it into night time light:

sunflower solar

A blurb from Good Mag on the project:

Comprised of 15 flower-shaped photovoltaic solar panels that line a pedestrian and bike path on the greenbelt between a retail lot and highway I-35, SunFlowers was unveiled on July 30. In such close proximity to a prominent highway, the 30-foot structures are, as Harries/Héder put it, “a highly visible metaphor for the energy-conscious city of Austin.” But because each one is a working solar collector, the art piece is both emblematic and functional.

The energy that the panels collect during the day is used, come nightfall, to power SunFlowers’ stunning blue LEDs, which illuminate the path below for bike-riders and walkers, and generally beautifying the area. An extra 15 kilowatts generated each day is fed back into the grid and used offset the costs of operation and maintenance.

What do you think of this installation? I’m actually a fan of projects like this – projects that use technology like solar tech and repurpose it in a dual role as art and civil lighting interest me.  The developer paid a large part of the project, and a grant was given for the materials.

Some information on the project from Mags Harries and Lajos Heder’s website – the creators of the SunFlowers project:

Location:      Austin, TX
Client:            Catellus Development Co.
Size:                30′ x 1000′ x 16′
Materials:     Photovoltaic solar collector panels, welded steel frames and stems, landforms and plantings
Budget:         $595,000:
$470,000 from the Developer
$75,000 from Austin Energy rebate
$50,000 grant from Applied Materials Inc.

The 15 SunFlowers that form the Electric Garden are sculptural solar collectors that generate solar energy for lighting at night. The additional 15 kilowatts of energy that they produce is fed into the electrical grid for credit, which will fund the maintenance and operating costs for the project. During the day they provide shade for a pedestrian/bicycle path and at night the LED’s in the SunFlowers’ stamens glow with blue light.
SunFlowers was initiated as a buffer to mask the loading docks at the edge of the Mueller Development from the I-35 highway.

To date, this is the largest public art project in the City of Austin.  SunFlowers is both an icon for the sustainable, LEED certified Mueller Development and a highly visible metaphor for the energy conscious City of Austin.

The custom-made solar collector panels have a blue crystalline surface and appear like a garden of huge flowers facing the northbound traffic on I-35.

More images of the project:

sunflower

sunflower austin

sunflower model

sunflower_rendering

sunflower_closeup

Thanks, Good and Core77!