Solar Panels Shaping the Look of Cities and Energy Resources in the Future
Milano Salone -- held every April in Milan, Italy -- is one of the world's largest design exhibitions. This year will mark the sixth consecutive year of Panasonic's participation in the event, which attracts next-generation creators and pundits from around the globe. As a corporation firmly at the forefront of developing energy solutions for the future, Panasonic is continually evaluating its presence on the world stage.
For the second straight year, architect Akihisa Hirata was chosen to design Panasonic's installation, which will be a massive 30-meter energy landscape that leads into a hallway of a building at the prestigious University of Milan.
The Concept : Energetic Energies -- An Energy Scene
The installation features cubes that represent buildings clustered in a city. Numerous solar panels cover the cubes like lush vegetation covering hills, while shadows of clouds pass over the hills.
When viewing the installation, one is struck by its conceptual similarity to a vibrant city of the future where artificial solar panels integrate seamlessly with nature. The overall effect is designed to convey a sense of inclusiveness, a world in which city and nature exist in harmony, with natural energy amply and efficiently available to all. Last year's exhibition showcased a new solution that melded the concepts of generation, reservation and conservation of energy into a unified theme to simulate one of the fundamentals of our ecosystem: photosynthesis. This year's installation expands on this.
"The expression 'Energetic Energies' may seem strange but I think it perfectly sums up the concept of a vibrant metropolis of the future in which city and nature interact dynamically," Mr Hirata explained. "It symbolizes the interrelationship of all living things." He hopes the installation encourages new thinking on how solar panels can be put to use.
Cityscapes of the Future Integrate Solar Panels
- A lawn with plants ― more livable than a simple lawn
Mr Hirata has a clear vision of what cities should look like in the future. "Soon, solar panels will become ubiquitous, covering rooftops across the city," he said. "But what kind of city would that be, with these inorganic, two-dimensional panels scattered about? Imagine a two-dimensional garden simply covered with lawn. Wouldn't it be more livable if it was landscaped with bushes and trees for a three-dimensional look?
"Essentially, nature is three-dimensional and filled with living organisms. Future cities should be similar if they are to coexist with nature. And solar panels hold greater potential to actually create more livable cities, aesthetically speaking, than their current form suggests."
- Deploying solar-panel modules instead of an entire solar panel
When designing the installation Mr Hirata abandoned preconceptions regarding solar panel usage and labored to devise a totally new way of installing them throughout a city. Instead of laying panels conventionally in a pane, he decided to equip randomly arranged cubes with solar panels to simulate leaves on a tree. This turns a cold, inorganic cityscape into one reminiscent of flora-covered hills. And just like plants that photosynthesize, solar panels efficiently convert natural energy into electricity. It is indeed a new type of city, one that elegantly fuses technology with nature.
- A new city-wide approach that learns from nature
For his installation Mr Hirata challenges commonly held beliefs about solar energy. "Conventional wisdom has it that bigger is better when it comes to solar panels, and that they must always face one direction. I don't buy into that," he exclaimed. "The sun moves from east to west, with its angle relative to earth constantly changing. That's why plants grow their branches and leaves in so many different directions; they want to catch as much sunlight as possible. So if we really want to efficiently provide energy for a city, I think we should rethink how we deploy solar panels."
Reconnecting People with the Sky and Cities with Nature
Another feature of the installation includes shadows that simulate clouds slowly passing over the miniature, solar powered city. Sound effects are also used to reinforce the relationship between humankind and the sky as well as cities with nature.
"Clouds pass over hills and mountains as well as cities, which is to say that cities -- although manmade -- are a part of the natural environment," he stressed. "Most of us don't pay much attention to the sky. But I'd like them to look up and reestablish the connection between man and nature."
- Mock-up of the installation
This year's installation both demonstrates how technology can coexist with nature and proposes a new way to generate solar energy. It encourages a different take on energy production; one that goes beyond the current model of supplying energy to individual buildings to one that employs an entire city to produce and manage energy in a sustainable manner.
Exploring the Potential of LED Lighting
Along with Mr. Hirata's installation, Panasonic will showcase other products that build on core concepts such as generation, reservation and conservation of energy. In particular, four LED chandeliers -- made in collaboration with Milan designers -- embody not only the energy-saving aspects of LED lighting but also its brand potential when integrated with tastefully designed devices.
Eco Class on Lighting Slated
This is Panasonic's sixth appearance at Milano Salone. At each the company has sough to strengthen relations with the city by sponsoring educational events. This year Panasonic is offering an 'Eco Learning Program' at elementary schools for the duration of the exhibition. Students will use a hand-turned generator to light three different types of lamps -- incandescent, fluorescent and LED -- to learn first-hand about generating and conserving energy. They'll also have the opportunity to express their creativity by making LED lanterns. The aim is to instill in the next generation the importance of energy conservation. Panasonic does more than participate in exhibitions and product promotions. In order to fulfill its role as a globally responsible corporation, the company strives to promote ideas for a sustainable society through various cultural activities.