HOW TO BUILD AN ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENT WORKSPACE

The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Okko Meinilä

The photo was taken with solar powered camera. Photo: Okko Meinilä

We are interested in exploring the possibility of how to build a renewably powered art & sustainability workspace by appreciating two opposites that are important to us: nature and technology. Although their paths occasionally cross, they work on essentially different principles. Nature is chaotic, fierce and beautiful whereas technology is controlled, compliant and unaesthetic. We want to learn how to combine them in creating a workspace that runs on self-sufficiently produced renewable energy. For us, this would mean that both nature and technology can flourish.

Many European art and culture organisations have their own residency programmes, residences or projects that include working in an artist residence. Time spent on a residence varies from project to project and from organisation to organisation. Some of the organisations we have had a contact with run residency programmes where artists and thinkers explore art and sustainability.

Creative Carbon Scotland, a partnership of organisations from Edinburgh has run an annual Arts & Sustainability Residency since 2014. TransArtists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, is a platform that informs artists about international residency programmes and opportunities. Their extensive database lists several programmes around the themes of art and sustainability. In Riga, Latvia, you can find RIXC, The Center for New Media Culture that works in the fields of art, science, new technologies, and includes also themes of ecology and sustainability in their projects. They have a residency programme for artists working in the cross-disciplinary fields of art, science and digital technologies.

After going through a list of European art and culture organisations, we discovered it was not easy to find organisations with residences, namely residences that are also concrete buildings, that both explore art and sustainability and function self-sufficiently on a renewable energy basis. We found a couple of interesting residences that match or are close to our search criteria, though.

One of them is, surprisingly enough, here in Finland. Mustarinda residency is situated in Hyrynsalmi, Kainuu province, approximately in the middle between northern and southern Finland. The residence aims towards energy self-sufficiency and offers rooms for artists, writers and researchers of varying fields. It is owned by the Mustarinda Association, an organisation that promotes the diversity of culture and nature, connection between art and science and the ecological rebuilding of society.

The other matching residence we came across is Joya: AiR, an artist and writers residency in Cortijada Los Gázquez, in the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez, in the north of Almería province, Spain. The residence is located in an off-grid sustainable destination and run by Joya: arte + ecología, a non-profit arts-led field research centre. Joya: AiR, where artists can explore art, environment and sustainability, uses both passive and active systems of off-grid energy systems.

But why isn’t there more energy self-sufficient residences or workspaces and why haven’t we already built one of our own? Since our interest lies very much in solar energy, let us consider it for a moment.

The first thing that comes to mind is that building a renewable energy based workspace is costly. After all, the idea is to produce your own solar energy instead of buying it from an energy company. What makes it expensive initially, are the equipment and installation. In the long run, solar energy pays itself back though. According to the Fraunhofer Photovoltaics Report (updated regularly), the average energy payback time in Europe varies between less than 1 year to 2.5 years depending on geographical location and technology installed. However, we have learned that the average payback time here in Finland is closer to 15 years. At the moment, we do not know how combining other renewable sources with solar power would effect on the overall payback time.

Visually solar panels are not the most appealing sight. The standard dark blue solar panel with white grid does not fit in the environment despite its function. The way we see it, there are two options to have a more balanced scenery: either to compensate the unattractive technology with the surrounding beautiful nature or to invest in black solar panels. Black panels are more expensive than blue ones due to their manufacturing technique but when it comes to aesthetics, black solar panels have no rivals.

Finland’s location in northern Europe can be tricky. How well does solar power work here when the sun does not shine all year round? There are differences between southern and northern Finland but according to a Finnish energy company, Helen Ltd, conditions to produce solar energy in southern Finland are as good as in northern Germany. A renewable workspace in our latitude could also combine different renewable sources if solar energy production were not enough.

There is also the question of time. How much time do you need in order to get the place running? Will it take time and money away from other art and sustainability projects? Time, finances and the scope of the workspace project must be well thought out to keep it in relatively safe proportions.

And why are we actually thinking about creating an energy self-sufficient art and sustainability workspace? The main reason is the grim picture that climate change paints for the future. The planet, its nature and inhabitants are threatened by climate change. It is a known fact that the actions of humans are the biggest factor in global warming. We feel that the actions of humans can also be the thing that turns the tide. For us, it is the combination of art and sustainability, nature and technology. It could be argued that we are trying to tame nature with technology but from our point of view, we are merely trying to help nature help itself.

One day the need for renewable energy run homes, businesses, cars and public transport will become even more pressing than now. It feels essential to be ready for that day. Our chosen action would be to change everything to work on renewable energy right now. But that is impossible. Creating an energy self-sufficient workspace by combining nature and technology could be one the many first steps for us in Global Senses. Unless something drastic happens, the world is not going to turn back time and willingly abandon technology. It will continue trying to reconcile nature with technology, just like us. But what can come from a synthesis of two opposites? As far as we see it, they can either create a harmonious tune or a clash against each other in cacophony.

 

Text by Tiina Junno

Sources: Creative Carbon Scotland, TransArtists, RIXC, Mustarinda, Joya: AiR, The Fraunhofer Photovoltaics Report, Helen Ltd