Beyond the Outlet: The Materiality of Decentralized Energy Systems

Visual Studies

Fall 2012 + Spring 2013

Amanda Parkes, instructor

Contemporary society has evolved around an energy paradigm of large scale centralized systems, often times away from public view, in which our personal understanding and interaction need only extend to the wall outlet. With the global energy crisis, however, our paradigms of energy production are being reevaluated at every scale within our culture and as designers, our awareness and abilities need to evolve to fit a new energy landscape ripe with opportunities. Moreover, in the increasingly mobile nature of contemporary life, our ‘environments’ transcend space but with our digital devices we remain tied to the grid, and we are only as mobile as the length of our battery life. This course explored new ideas in energy production and capture in personal and small scale systems. We investigated concepts in passive or parasitic energy, for example, capturing the energy generated through the motion of the human body with piezoelectrics or other mechanical systems, as well as new material advances in energy production, such as transparent printed flexible solar panels. Biobatteries or personally produced biomass and biofuels rounded out a localized systems approach towards energy and sustainability with a personal or community focus and how this can be appropriated into our contemporary lifestyle and environments.