Creative designers are using innovation to contribute to a sustainable future

On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) bill into law, establishing his economic agenda and laying the groundwork for years of economic growth and new jobs in an industry abundant with potential for future generations.  There has never been greater optimism about the possibility of a society powered by clean energy and the creation of clean energy jobs.

In light of the fact that the fossil fuel sector still provides power for 81% of the world’s population and that this dependence has had, and will continue to have, disastrous effects on our land, water supply, food supply, and human health, this is certainly welcome news.  The global pivot to cutting-edge renewable technologies to meet future energy needs is long overdue, but the topic of renewable energy doesn’t come without its own share of critics, including those you would never consider being climate deniers.

For example, in August 2021, a group of Nantucket Island homeowners sued to stop an offshore wind turbine installation.  The local alliance, dedicated to renewable energy, believed the project endangered the rare North Atlantic right whale and ruined homeowners’ vistas.  The same debate is currently taking place in the Horse Heaven Hills region of south-central Washington state, where a wind turbine project has drawn fire from a group of renewable energy supporters who are complaining that the installation will ruin their views of the ridges.  The fact is that, despite the advances in the industry, energy systems and infrastructure are generally not aesthetically pleasing and, because of the disruptive nature of the natural landscape, are usually located in isolated rural spaces, far away from the disapproving voices of our urban residents.

But there is good news on the horizon as pioneering designers like Shreya Thakkar and her team (Surabhi Khanderia and Hasan Zaidi) have started working towards a long-term solution that will serve both a practical and scenic purpose.  This resourceful team is working towards the implementation of projects like Petal Power Place, which explores the ideas of decentralized renewable energy systems that will be beautifully integrated into our urban environments, and also share infrastructure with urban farming operations in order to maximize the utility of existing structures.

Future-conscious designers like Shreya Thakkar and her team, that are transforming the archetypes of what the future of energy infrastructure can be, will become more and more critical to the advancement of the industry.  It will be these types of inspired entrepreneurs that can start changing the perceptions of those residing on the island of Nantucket or those concerned about the ridgeline views in Horse Heaven Hills.

Petal Power Place an agri-voltaic symbiosis

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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar

Petal Power Place is a framework for Agri voltaic symbiosis, which aims to address the climate crisis by exploring ideas of decentralized renewable energy systems that are beautifully integrated into urban environments and share infrastructure with urban farming. The project aims to maximize the utility of existing structures by combining innovative technologies, and aims to showcase the integration of renewable energy in an organic and biophilic form that can foster water conservation. The project is centered around the concept of a blooming flower, which symbolizes the beauty of change and the change in our approach, life-styles and environments that will be shaped by the process of global energy transition.

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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar

The project currently features two models of the 15.2-meter diameter flower canopy that sits 3.6 meters above the ground and produces approximately 300 MWh of energy per flower per year.  The first model incorporates solar technology and shade structures for farming and greenhouse applications.  The second model is designed to integrate energy crops and productive urban landscapes into the infrastructure that supports energy technology.  The energy technologies are meant to extend into the sky, while the structure itself provides a fascinating experience on the ground…In both cases, the form of a flower lends an opportunity to exhibit innovative technologies and showcase biophilic renewable energy forms that are organic in addition to fostering water conservation.  The sculptures also serve to demonstrate how we can use aesthetics to advocate for environmentally sound practices in the sciences.

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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar

Art, of course, has been used throughout history as a means to gain public interest and progress public discourse, from ancient Chinese vases to functional lighting sculptures in a local park.  And there has always been something particularly resplendent about outdoor art that makes it just as provocative and striking as any masterpiece in a gallery museum.  So, as climate concerns continue to rise, renewable energy provides an opportunity to advance the industry while helping to reduce the consequences of polluting fossil fuels and offering local cityscapes a truly unique artistic experience.  Petal Power Place is creating functional pieces of art that not only serve a decorative purpose but also have a practical utility.  And, one day, these pieces of art might just save the world.

About the Author and Designer

Shreya Thakkar’s work is where research, strategy, and user experience design meet. Her work addresses social issues like homelessness, employment equity, and healthcare system stability. She focuses on finding human-centered insights and translating them into design and innovation opportunities. As a design strategist at an architecture firm Planning Design Research, she researches patients’ and visitors’ healthcare experiences and the future of work, workplace, and workforce.

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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar
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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar
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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar
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Petal Power Place_©Shreya Thakkar