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Artist Creates a Virtual World Around a Solar Plant

John Gerrard's "Solar Reserve" is on view at the Lincoln Center.
October 8, 2014, 7:35pm
Image: Solar Reserve

Most people won't ever make a pilgrimage to a desert solar power plant. Irish artist John Gerrard, known for his real-time computer simulations, is giving us the next best thing. Solar Reserve is a virtual replica of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Tonopah, Nevada, beamed on a 28-by-24-foot LED wall outside New York's Lincoln Center.

The installation is designed to convey the scale required to turn solar energy into electrical power. Crescent Dunes generates 110 megawatts of power, enough to power 75,000 homes during peak electrical hours.


Gerrard digitally recreates the space around Crescent Dunes and its 10,000 heliostat mirrors, which are arrayed in concentric circles around a solar power tower. Seen from above, it resembles a circuit board or labyrinth.

Image: Solar Reserve

Gerrard and a team of programmers used Unigine, a real-time virtual 3D program typically used in gaming, to place the sun, moon, and stars as they would appear over one year at Crescent Dunes. The perspective cycles through ground level, satellite, and various other vantage points. "No view is precisely the same at any point during the course of the exhibition," according to the official description.

The artist told Motherboard he was interested in the Crescent Dunes facility because it resembles a solar disc from above and its solar tower reminded him of a light house, two technologies that depend on the sun.

"I was interested in transplanting these ancient, iconic shapes into New York City with an alternate reality," Gerrard said. "Most people ignore public art, but it's stimulating the public in this enormous way to document it. If you look at the #SolarNYC images on Instagram, people are creating these images within images and wonderful hyperlapse videos of Solar Reserve."

"It will be interesting to see what kind of archive of images we end up with at the end of the installation," Gerrard added.

At the installation, the views are as trippy as they are numerous. Solar Reserve isn't technically 3D, but it had the same effect of pulling you in an immersive way. You almost forgot it had a square edge.

Solar Reserve is on view from now until December 1st at the Lincoln Center.