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April 2014

Ignore this – Environmental Advocacy As Art

Art as advocacy

Innovative art is often described as a 'breath of fresh air.'

Beijing artist, Liang Kegang, has taken this concept to a new level with his latest piece – a sealed jar of clean air. The air collected in Provence, France sold for $860 at a Beijing art auction last month.

When asked about the work, Kegang was quoted saying the commodification of fresh air served, “to question China's foul air and express my dissatisfaction."

Dissatisfaction is an understatement when discussing much of China's air quality. Smog causes the premature death of roughly 350,000 to 500,000 Chinese citizens a year according to China’s former health minister, Chen Zhu. Last year Beijing’s air was on average about 10 times more polluted than levels considered healthy by the World Health Organization.

Kegang is one of a host of Chinese artists who’ve begun drawing international attention to China’s serious air pollution problem. While these particular eco-artists’ focus is on China, their simple yet effective messaging should translate globally.

Environmental art, like grassroots initiatives, illustrates that micro-programs and individual advocacy can be catalysts for lasting change. The concept we’re calling ‘eco-art’ demonstrates environmental innovation and stewardship can take root when they’re connected with an emotion or more personal experience.

We’ll continue to explore this interplay between art and clean tech over the coming month, isolating key messages to help drive public awareness and policy.

As a start, we have a rundown of some recent eco-art programs receiving global attention:

January 2014: Notorious Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei posts a picture of himself in a gas mask on Twitter to express his frustration with abysmal air quality.

February 2014: Twenty Beijing artists sporting gas masks play dead in front of the city’s popular Temple of Heaven Park.

March 2014: Artists in Changsha hold a mock funeral for what they imagined would be the death of the city’s last citizen due to smog.

March 30, 2014: Chengdu-based artist Li Yongzheng is the highest bidder for Liang Kegang’s jar of fresh air. The Chinese entrepreneur pays 5,250 yuan ($860) for the piece.

The intimate nature of these gestures reminds us of what is on the line, and it’s inherently shareable, lending itself nicely to proliferation in the social media sphere.

North American clean technology advocates can take notes from the passion and simplicity demonstrated by these Chinese artists, potentially tapping into their own creative messaging to craft statements that stick.

Produced by: Remi Dalton

*Note: Since publishing this blog, Ai Weiwei has developed a series of new eco-advocacy projects and recently posted a gallery site well-worth visiting at:

Can These Three Smart-Grid Startups Ease Solar’s Integration?

Can These Three Smart-Grid Startups Ease Solar’s Integration?

Originally posted March 31, 2014 on Solar Power World

When you think of smart-grid developments, your thoughts turn immediately to solar integration or metering debates. But you should be including smart water heaters and 3D imaging in the discussions.

Three promising Midwest startups may do just that. A few exciting companies from Illinois are affecting the boom in smart grid innovations — and the disruptors behind them.

Whether they’re part of the portfolio at Energy Foundry, a private impact venture capital fund or the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator platform, these diverse technologies stand to put the Midwest on the map this year.

You may never think of water heaters the same way again, thanks to Intellihot Green Technologies. Yes, they also have a part to play in developing the smart grid. Intellihot designs intelligent, tankless water heaters that are built to reduce energy and water use across industrial, commercial and residential applications.

Founded in 2005, the idea for Intellihot was born from necessity after the founder’s own water heater malfunctioned and flooded his basement.

Reasons to watch?
For starters, Intellihot has exceptional leadership, like co-founder Sridhar Deivasigamani. They’re also an Energy Foundry portfolio company and part of the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator.

Among these American-made products are the i Series and iQ Series systems for commercial buildings. Self-cleaning and more compact, they operate 40% more efficiently than traditional water heaters. Who knows what will happen when you add solar energy to that mix?

Whether it’s the home-use or industrial options, keep an eye on this smart take on hot water — there’s more in the tank for 2014.

Building operations and energy markets may have been two ships passing in the night, but the team at QCoefficient aims to change that. The secret is QCo’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) system, which automates, optimizes and scales energy systems to take advantage of building’s thermal mass and improve efficiency.

Or, as QCo describes it, they essentially turn buildings into batteries capable of energy storage on a multi-MW scale.

Take a look at how QCo’s HVAC optimization software evaluates temperature-settings and helps shift consumption to take advantage of lower early-morning temperatures and electrical prices.

Utilities and grid operators stand to gain, too. QCo’s software can help drive 15 to 30% electricity savings and megawatt storage capacity, while introducing elasticity to grid markets — one of the main objections of utilities to adding solar to the grid.

Reasons to watch?
Another member of the Smart Grid Cluster accelerator, QCo connects HVAC operations in individual and larger portfolios of buildings.

Installed in less than two weeks and easy to integrate with existing automation systems, this is one SaaS company that you’ll want to hear more from in 2014.

Grid operators and municipalities crave data, and CityScan unites it all with street-level insights and 3D mapping to make cities (and grids) smarter.

CityScan uses Mobile Terrestrial LiDAR (MTL) to collect street-level data (such as a downed power line) and produce precise 3D renderings of locations to help enhance city safety, improve response times and even help roll out smart grid developments.

From street sign compliance and permitting to grid inventory and preventative maintenance on power lines, this urban data mine seems golden. And think of what this could mean to solar. If you could integrate their solution with solar plant monitoring systems, what couldn’t solar do for the grid?

Reasons to Watch?
A member of 1871 and the Smart Grid Cluster, the software startup’s already a leader in its field, with some of the most advanced 3D visual data collection out there. Couple that with its stable of talented data scientists, and you’ll start to connect the dots on this data-driven startup.

By Gretchen Fitzgibbons, guest writer on Solar Power World