OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Energy Pop-Up: A Community-Based Platform for Energy Conversations.

Taking cue from the pop-up retail shops and gourmet food trucks, can we give Energy a cool, hip twist to engage and educate people in public spaces?

Photo of Paricha Duangtaweesub
36 19

Written by

The Story:

This idea is motivated by the question: how can we make our relationships with and ideas about energy physical, tangible to the community? 

Taking this literally, my idea is to make energy-related info graphics into beautiful public art installations. This is inspired in part by pop-up clothing store (say, Comme Des Garcons) that sells cool, limited edition fashion items, travelling food trucks that becomes a cultural gem (think Chef the movie), and the BigBarChart - a project in the MIT Media Lab that envisions data physically. The goal is to draw attention to energy concepts through the novelty of art and pop-up culture and inspire - even direct - people to take action as a result.

Update (1/27/15): There's merit in designing the Energy Pop-Up as an energy-aware open space platform that is modular in nature but ultimately serves to increase awareness of renewable energy and bring together in communities closer together through sustainability. With this in mind, the Energy Pop-Up can take many shapes and forms - I can see interactive bar charts (shown in picture, a project of the MIT Media Lab), animating infographics. The key is here to get people up close and curious about their own energy use.

I’ll use the example of the duck curve to illustrate how the installation would be set up. The Duck Curve is a (now-famous) energy demand curve for California that shows the diminishing energy use during the day thanks to growing solar installations. While the idea is much debated, the infographic have permeated the energy culture in academia and industry as evidence of the looming downfall of the grid. Taking this curve, I imagine collaborating with local artists to make a 3-D, life-size replica of the Duck Curve in a parklet in San Francisco, complete with flashy colors and big signs.

Comme Des Garcons pop-up store embodies the 'planned spontaneity' and 'massclusivity' culture. Can we make the same work for information? And energy information at that?

From afar, it would like a piece of art, but up close, I could see museum-style information plaques around the work that can be used to convey local energy news, show results of energy-saving or solar generation efforts nearby and around the world, make petitions available for people to contribute to, and outline simple actions people can do to bring renewables to market. Furthermore, I would create a publicity campaign around the project by encouraging people to share pictures of this new ‘local attraction’ (and use #knowurenergy!). I envision the art as an attraction and an energy information platform.

Update (1/31/15): Accumulating several comments on the actual exhibition of this energy 'art', I understand now that local communities may have a difficult time connecting with and caring about statistics or infographics that represent national energy use. Instead, the Pop-up would take energy consumption information in the local area - including renewable energy statistics and emissions data - that can be traced back to the actions of the community. For example, if the community has a public solar garden, then the Energy Pop-up could compare the real-time emissions reduction level as compared to other neighbouring cities.

The Duck Curve showing decreasing day-time demand due to net metering of solar energy. The Clean Coalition.

UX Map:

Breaking down the user experience roadmap… For this example, our user is Sam, a young, 30-something male living in San Francisco who is well connected to his peers and is energy-aware to a level but not formally educated in the field. He currently rents a one-bedroom in an upscale neighborhood and likes to spend his weekend getting out of the office, for once.

Step 1: The Energy Pop-up buzz
  • Sam is on the way home and checks his Facebook News Feed. He sees a buzz created around the Energy Pop-up online, either through friends sharing the work or from coverage by a leading website like Buzzfeed, i09, or the likes.

  Step 2: Sharing in Social Circle
  • His weekend free, Sam invites a close group of friends to hang out at the space to see what the fuss is all about. Being the well-connected person that he is, his group of friends come from different walks of life and even has a visiting friend from the East Coast.

Step 3: Coolness Factor
  • At the Energy Pop-up, Sam takes pictures with his friends and uses #knowurenergy to share it on social media, thereby propagating the work through his network. It’s something he does to promote keep his status as the cool, hip guy who sets the trend.

Step 4: Learning about Energy and Signs Petition
  • Vaguely curious about the history of the Pop-up, Sam checks out information on the plaques and read about  how solar gardens can save his monthly electricity payments. He sees others signing a petition and is encouraged to do something about this energy debate.

Once the work picks up media attention, the discussion that will hopefully ensue will explain to the casual readers and consumers of news what the Duck Curve is, thereby propagating energy knowledge and even energy actions. In an ideal world, the Energy Pop-up will leverage social networks to propagate energy information in popular media.

Ideas Refinement:

For all the comments and suggestions, thank you! I've filtered through all of your comments and incorporated a few key aspects that I think works in concert with the original goal of creating energy conversations in local communities in the hopes of affecting change in their energy decisions.

  • Pop-up should be temporary - retain that high value and novelty created from scarcity
  • Space should be open to collaboration, with local artists and engineers where appropriate
  • Exhibit should be interactive and provide information on renewable energy
The best move going forward to reimagine this pop-up space as mobile, attention-grabbing, information platform.

I'm thinking about this art piece in SF which embodies the spirit of the local community (Golden Gate Bridge!) but has a recognizable feature (heart-shaped) that can be transported to multiple locations and maintain a uniform message.

Leveraging Suspense to create a Buzz (Updated: 2/5/15)

Taking cue from J.J. Abrams' mystery box, the exhibit would start out its short life-span closed with a small window for passerbys to look through. I call this the e-Cube (another great name for it is EnerCube but that is another fantastic idea on this platform, check it out!).

This cube has plain walls on the side that could provide space for provocative questions (and hashtags!): #knowurenergy #greenisthenewblack or How renewable are you? How do YOU energy? - to get people curious.

... Wanna know what's inside? ... 

The Exhibit: What does a Pop-up Space Look like

In brainstorming what this installation would look like, it's important to keep in mind who we are targeting. NRG Energy's CEO David Crane  wrote a letter to students, a call to action for the next generation of energy leaders to demand cleaner energy. I think this is a wonderful inspiration and students - young talent - is a good audience to engage as they not only could consider careers in energy but also influence peers and parents.

Let's focus on universities and community colleges. There are several key benefits for this:
  • Students are exploring career choices and naturally curious
  • There are many communities with similar characteristics around the country
  • Students - designers and engineers - can take part in running these e-Cube.
A lightweight prototype is currently installed at the Stanford - I wanted to find if people would interact with a passive object on the topic of energy as it relates to their own day-to-day lifestyle.

The key insight from the "Before I die..." installation and from speaking to my peers is that we need to consider if people actually have something to say at all about energy.

WIth the help of a friend, we created this eye-catching pattern and poses the question: how much energy did you use today? The goal is to get people to think about their own energy use - because there is no right or wrong answer, participation is for the users to reflect. 

What's the outcome? Incentives?
Let's see what feedback I get!

The Exhibit: To udpate: 2/6/15 --> experiment postponed to 2/8/15 :(
  • The Call-to-Action: What can we do to get people to take action? 
    • To update: 2/7/14

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

The goal would be to replicate similar installation around different communities, by tailoring the information to what’s relevant to each community. Other than the community members themselves who would visit the public spaces and learn about the ‘energy art’, I hope that the project could benefit local artists as well as local governing bodies who can dissipate the relevant information about local energy use i.e. local utilities.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

The idea for this exhibit is to really bring what’s nebulous and conceptual about energy and their relationship with energy to the physical space that they can interact with and learn from. I believe that we can empower people to take action by providing access to information that they can understand and act on. For example, along with the installation, we can have a plaque with information about how they can help their communities such as signing a live petition or read about local initiatives.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

A big assumption in this idea is that people will voluntarily interact with a public object, just because it is there. I think one meaningful test would be to have a huge sign in a public space indicating some kind of attraction - to see if and how people would react to a public object. Other assumptions to test with the prototype would be how people behave on social media with pieces of public art and whether energy actions or news propagated here would lead to a change - either in thinking or behavior. We would need to figure out what information should be displayed.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

I would love to hear feedback from everyone in the OpenIDEO community; what do people think about the idea, how would you interact with such objects, and what would you want to know more? Specifically, I would appreciate input from people with background in urban planning, fine arts, or local governments!

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • My post doesn't mention a specific type of energy

This idea emerged from:

  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of Benjamin Kimmich

Hi Paricha,

Great idea! Did you see the concept posted by Rachel? Our company, AVAVA Systems, provides solar powered, pop-up modular structures and we are located in SF.

If you decide you want to do a full size installation somewhere (we could totally do a parking space) we would be glad to help. You would still need artists to convey the visuals but would be glad to supply an 8 ft x12ft 'room' that you could decorate the inside and outside of. It might be nice to have a place where people can come in and sit and really take in your ideas.

You can see our product here:
(The picture in the top right corner is our traveling prototype.)

Have you thought about trying to get a corporate sponsor for a project like this?

View all comments