In conceding defeat in the May 2019 election, Tony Abbott admitted that climate change is presented politically as either a moral or an economic issue. Characterising the last two decades of Australian politics, this divisive approach has polarised society and stalled progress on an increasingly overwhelming challenge; despite the availability of technological solutions. 

microgrid combines some prospective technology solutions with sound bites from nature, politics and people to explore this polarisation.

Researchers of future electricity distribution methods describe a ‘microgrid’ as a localised network of electricity producers and consumers that is able to connect to the main electricity grid but is also capable of operating separately if desired for economic or physical reasons. [1] The participants in the microgrid collectively consider economics, environmental impact, energy security and other factors to decide on the technologies that are used and the rules that govern how the electricity is distributed and consumed and the sacrifices that might be made if electricity is in short supply. They take responsibility for all aspects of their  electricity needs.

The microgrid art installation consists of two connected participants – a ‘producer’ who both produces and consumes electricity generated by a solar panel and stored in a battery; and a ‘consumer’ who uses the stored electricity. The solar panel is a prototype printed solar film produced by researchers at the University of Newcastle[2] and this particular panel has low electricity output but can still produce electricity in the low light of the forest environment. The battery is a Lithium Polymer battery of small capacity.

Both participants use the electricity to play audio samples of birds, politicians and people to voice their opinion on the challenge of climate change. The frequency and loudness of the messages are controlled by the availability of electricity and will vary through the day and with the amount of sunlight and the stored electricity in the battery.  The rules governing this are determined by the producer and are set so that the battery never runs flat.  The rules may not be fair; this is not an ideal microgrid.

 

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Installation at Hunter Regional Botanic Gardens, June-July 2019

The indicator lights show the energy storage level (blue) and solar energy generation level (green); the further apart the lights, the greater the storage or energy. Data on the light levels, energy generation and behaviour of the system is monitored in real-time remotely and will contribute to further development of the work.

The audio samples have been adopted from those used in Off Grid  with updates to reflect current politics and to now include the Black Throated Finch and quotations from the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and musician Jimmy Barnes.

References:

  1. Berkely microgrid research laboratories
  2. Centre for Organic Electronics – Printed Solar