Green Infrastructure Gets Creative: When Power Meets Sustainability
Can a solar panel sound sensational or can a tidal lagoon educate and generate green energy? We explore key examples of green infrastructure around the world
Acres of silicone glistening in the sun; vast blades of fiberglass mow the sky; turbines are melting in the oceans: billions are being invested in renewable energy programs around the world as awareness of the climate emergency finally dawns and the energy crisis takes hold. But architects and planners are now upping the ante, striving to create benefits beyond green power generation for this green infrastructure. “We have to ask ourselves: how could this project work harder and bring fun?” says Alister Kratt, energy and infrastructure specialist at UK-based LDA Design. “We have to be creative and optimistic. Can we integrate social and sports spaces, research or food production facilities?
Spain is a pioneer in agrivoltaics: a project in Totana harvests energy from the sun as well as artichokes and thyme on dual-use land. Austria’s hydroelectric power stations are tourist attractions: you can hike through alpine waterfalls before hurtling 600m down the face of the Schlegeis dam on a zipline. In Iceland, aesthetics triumph. “We were trying to create a timeless design,” says architect Pálmar Kristmundsson of his Borholuhús geothermal power plants. “And we asked: why can’t it be as beautiful as it is functional? And at Norway’s Øvre Forsland hydroelectric power station, it’s all about the decor: “We wanted it to cohabit with nature instead of destroying it,” architect Stein Hamre tells us. “It should be inspiring and fascinating instead of irritating.” Looking at these projects, we are in complete agreement.
Inspiring examples of green infrastructure
River: Øvre Forsland from Norway
Photography: Kristoffer Mollevik
Located just south of the Arctic Circle, amid snow-capped mountains and alpine forests, this hydropower plant reflects the wilderness of northern Scandinavia. Stein Hamre architects riff on the spruce trees with an exterior of irregular splinters of wood, while the interior is designed to inspire: hikers can peek inside to witness its technical magic bathed in light multicolored. Meanwhile, this station supplies some 1,700 homes.
Geothermal energy: Borholuhús in Iceland
When Reykjavik’s aging wooden geothermal stations began to crumble, the city launched a competition in 1996 to find sturdier replacements. Enter Pálmar Kristmundsson with a sleek retro-futuristic design: a clear winner consisting of a pair of curvilinear steel walls and a height of 4.5m, with a footprint of just 14m². Eight of these beautiful plants now sit atop the city’s hot water wells, pumping 70-90C water to heat homes across the city.
Tide: the Blue Eden of Wales
Photography: Blue 21
Floating ecological houses, a tidal lagoon of 320 MW and thousands of new jobs: the Blue Eden project proposed by Swansea hardly lacks ambition. Led by DST Innovations, the £1.7 billion scheme also includes research and cultural spaces, an extensive data center and battery manufacturing. If work begins in 2023 as hoped, it could be a game-changer for Wales: the country’s 800-mile coastline and 4m tidal ranges make it a potential tidal power station.
Wind: Greece Agios Georgios
Photography: Nikos Danilidis
Wind turbines are often criticized for marring the landscape, but this Greek scheme defies naysayers. Terna Energy chose the uninhabited islet of Agios Georgios, just south of Athens, for this ‘onshore-offshore’ scheme, landing €150m in funding amid an economic crisis and securing planning permission in the midst of the tangle of red tape from 28 government departments. The 23 wind turbines of the wind farm produce enough green energy for 40,000 homes.
Solar: the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park in the United Arab Emirates
Could this be the future? Self-driving bus tours of this UAE solar park include a solar-generating road, a self-cleaning solar flower, “smart displays” that look like giant mushrooms, and an innovation center filled with spaces to research and education. Located 50 km south of Dubai, the park plans to have a huge generation capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030, accelerating the city towards its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.