Sustainable energy, landscape architecture and the carbon cycle

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out

The landscape architecture should consider the implications for the landscape of supplying the UK's energy demand when the oil runs out (image from the 10-page Synopsis, reproduced courtesy David Mackay)

So far as I know, there is only one excellent book on Sustainable Energy. It is available free and the author, David MacKay, has become a government advisor. Everyone should read the 10-page synopsis. My question is this: how will solar power affect the landscape and what can landscape architects do to help the shift to sustainable energy? Solar, Clean Coal, Nuclear, Tide, Wave, Hydro, Waste, Pumped Heat, Wood, Biofuel, Wind.

The European average for energy use is 125 kWh/day.  Covering the windiest 10% of Britain with onshore windfarms would yield 20 kWh/ day per person; covering every south-facing roof with solar water-heating panels would capture 13 kWh/day per person; wave machines intercepting Atlantic waves over 500 km of coastline would provide 4 kWh per day per person.

Do landscape architects have anything to say about the layout of giant solar farms? David MacKay believes they are the most promising solution in the longer term. And what about giant wind farms?

17 thoughts on “Sustainable energy, landscape architecture and the carbon cycle

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    Very good, but see the link to the giant solar farm in China. Projects like this must be the way forward and I guess Australia has enough sunny desert land to accommodate the solar panels without excessive visual damage to the landscape!

  2. Justin

    We have been briefly touching upon biofuels in some discussions from our urban development project… these are quite interesting.

    Could there be a way of producing biofuel in a localised way? Could it ever be beautiful? (Links from Sean)

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    Please read what David Mackay and Nigel Lawson have to say about biofuels. Basically: biofuels sound like a good idea but the economics don’t work and can’t work. They are just a new approach to subsidising farmers!

  4. Christine

    Thanks for posting the links Justin.

    The projects on the emergent architecture site are very interesting. It made me think of the potential for using the embryonic technology as site specific art/light installations…that don’t strictly need to add up economically…but can do wonderful things to keep the creative and scientific community imagining!!

  5. Leo Phillips

    solar farms and lack of land…mmmm that leads me to a little landgrabbing idea (in the best way possible) i came across at a talk given at the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican

    these two biomimicry ideas can be used in conjunction with one producing distilled water for the other and maybe sometime soon they will mimic a beetle shell in order to create scratch proof mirrors to reduce maintainence in the harsh dessert climate….,28804,1872110_1872133_1872141,00.html

    a move toward a global non-carbon economy…or maybe juat a big war…who knows? but the ideas are there..

  6. Justin

    I think the solar power project in the Sahara Desert looks particular beautiful, but the sea water greenhouse a little less so!

    Solar power certainly seems to be something that can be done with little change to the landscape on a small scale (solar panels on every roof) but that certainly will not be enough, which will leave us wanting more energy from our neighbors…

    that could certainly be a move toward a global non-carbon economy

    as I’m not sure the wind farms will be built quickly enough!

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    I like the seawater idea and the Saharan solar power idea but can’t see them as very relevant to the UK’s energy problems. Also, the idea of Europe getting its future electricity supplies from giant solar farms in the Sahara involves one of the great questions about Europe’s destiny: will it be a re-creation of the Roman Empire – including all the land around the Mediterranean? Unless this were to happen, I cannot see Europeans taking the risk of investing their future in North Africa. Lets delay the time of reckoning by doing as much as we can with bicycles, insulation, green roofs, heat pumps, home-grown food, wood-burning stoves and thermal underwear. Other simple energy-saving measures include a ban on bottled water and the provision of municipal Freecycle centres. Then we can discourage overseas tourism by making our cities and landscapes so wonderful that we will all want to holiday at home. Just look at any Mediterranean beach or archaeological site: 90% of the visitors are bored stiff while getting their skin cancers.

  8. Christine

    The situation in the Maldives certainly is looking very precarious….
    [ ]

    “In Kandholhudhoo, a densely-populated island in the north of the Maldives, 60% of residents have volunteered to evacuate over the next 15 years – those remaining behind will eventually be compelled to do the same.

    Tidal surges flood their homes every fortnight, and recently hammered a 3m (9.8ft) hole in their concrete flood defences.”
    [ ]

    I wonder has the government of the Maldives seriously considered marine architecture as part of its investment strategy? [,+maldives&sll=0.278348,73.447552&sspn=0.020427,0.027637&ie=UTF8&ll=4.187637,73.522053&spn=0.040746,0.055275&t=k&z=14 ]

    [ ] and [ ]

  9. Christine

    No (or maybe….perhaps they might want an interesting dive site?) Some parts of the Maldives will obviously be of heritage value and the community will wish to take strenuous efforts to preserve these buildings.

    But there is always virtue in necessity. [ ]

    Rather than just buying a new island and everyone going there perhaps the people of the Maldives could re-invent a way of living with rising water?

  10. Tom Turner Post author

    Ah yes. It is worth remembering that one of the reasons for building walled cities in Ancient China was to protect against floods. They used to heap earth behind the gates, making the city an island in the swirling flood waters. It is a pity there was not aerial photography at the time. A similar system was used in Ancient Egypt and there are a number of surviving paintings and photographs.

  11. Christine

    Australian architects tend to be ahead of their times in many ways. Ken Woolley the architect of the Australian embassy in Thailand is not internationally recognised. However, this project suggests he deserves a higer profile!
    [ ] and [ ]


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