Arty sunflowers look good and provide power, too
By Paul Ridden
August 24, 2009
A boring and unattractive loading area at the rear of a retail development in Austin, Texas is now hidden from view by a collection of 15 huge blue sunflowers, the petals of which collect energy from the sun to power the artwork's LED lighting and generate funds to help towards costs. Whether driving past or walking through the Electric Garden, onlookers will be treated to an awe-inspiring panorama where art meets functionality.
Commuters on Austin's I-35 are in for a pleasant surprise as they pass loading bays at the rear of some retail outlets on the edge of the Mueller Development. An array of northbound-facing large blue metal flowers have recently grown along a footpath behind the complex in an attempt to divert attention away from the busy loading docks and give onlookers pause for thought.
The 15 sunflowers spend the day soaking up the sun using the blue crystalline photovoltaic solar collector panels which sit on welded steel frames and stems. These eye-catching giants also have stamens containing LEDs which bring the installation to life when the sun goes down.
By day, they provide a shaded canopy for cyclists and pedestrians as well as fodder for some interesting conversations. By night, the LEDs illuminate the walkway beneath thanks to special transparent gel-filled areas in the paneling which allow light to flow downwards.
The panels on the petals of the sunflowers use the collected solar energy to power the LEDs but also to help pay for the operating and maintenance costs of the Garden. The excess 15Kw or so of power collected is fed into the grid which generates a credit from the utility company.
The landscaped icon for sustainable development in energy-conscious Austin, which was officially opened on July 30th, also benefits from genuine trees and shrubs and is the work of artists Mags Harries and Lajos Héder.