Solar energy collectors can also be art. That was the thinking behind the Land Art Generator Initiative, a contest to create public art installations that double as full-scale clean energy generators.
First place for design went to “Lunar Cubit,” proposed by a designer team lead by Robert Flottemesch, an artist working with renewable energy and a senior engineer at Hudson Valley Clean Energy, in New York.
Lunar Cubit consists of a large central pyramid surrounded by eight smaller ones that all collect solar energy during the day and illuminate themselves at night in combinations corresponding to the cycles of the moon. The designers envision Lunar Cubit as a landmark — situated just outside the world's first “zero-carbon” metropolis, Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates — as recognizable as Big Ben or the Empire State Building.
A cubit is an ancient measure of length equal to almost 46 centimeters; the pyramids will be built to scale to match those of seven-wonders fame in Giza, Egypt. The outer, frameless solar panels on the pyramids' edges will be made from glass and amorphous silica, giving them an appearance of highly polished onyx. Underground cables transport the energy to a grid, where it is converted to AC power that will be used in thousands of surrounding homes — each of the eight outer pyramids alone will generate 1.74 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 250 houses. Above ground, stone walking paths will encourage pedestrians to meander and marvel between what the Lunar Cubit proposal refers to as “beacons of science.”
Lunar Cubit illuminates inversely with the phase of the moon; at a new moon, it's entirely lighted; at the full moon, all dark. An outer layer on each of the eight surrounding pyramids selectively blocks out portions of the structures throughout the month, keeping track of the lunar cycle like hands on a clock. And for people who can't travel to Abu Dhabi, Lunar Cubit will host a website similar to this demonstration site where anyone in the world can check in on the current weather, energy generation, and other stats about the giant moon clock in the Middle East.