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These playful street lamps are powered by the wind

The Papilio lamps look like giant pinwheels but are actually energy-saving lights that are entirely off the grid.

We’re on the precipice of a full-blown energy crisis. The global population is growing, the climate is warming, and, no surprise, the demand for energy is steadily increasing. We need to use less energy in any way that we can.

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Tobias Trübenbacher, a Berlin-based designer and student at the University of the Arts Berlin, has one such solution. Trübenbacher has created a street light called Papilio that combats energy pollution on two fronts: it’s wind-powered, which reduces its dependence on electricity, and the light itself has a motion sensor that’s only activated when someone passes underneath it.

There’s never been a more urgent time to find sustainable sources of energy. Some 60% of the electricity we use is still produced from fossil fuels. And if that weren’t enough, electric lights are causing unprecedented light pollution. Roughly 83% of the world’s population lives under artificial lights that brighten the sky 10% more than its normal level, which can disrupt animals’ migratory patterns and negatively impact biodiversity. While the Green New Deal has been reintroduced in Congress, it’s a long way from becoming reality. In the meantime, designers such as Trübenbacher are thinking of small, concrete ways to introduce clean energy and decrease pollution in your community.

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[Photo: courtesy Tobias Trübenbacher]
Trübenbacher designed Papilio in response to these global problems, saying that he initially chose to create a city-facing streetlight because of such lights’ role in light pollution. The lamp is shaped like a pinwheel that acts as a wind turbine, catching the wind to produce its own energy, which makes it climate-neutral. It also has a rechargeable battery that stores electricity, so the lamp can operate even on less windy days.

[Photo: courtesy Tobias Trübenbacher]
Another key component of the lamp is the light itself, which is more intuitive than meets the eye. The warm-colored light doesn’t draw the attention of insects, and it uses an infrared sensor so that the light is only activated by nearby motion, reducing its contribution to light pollution.

The streetlight’s design is also a visual signal of clean energy in action. Trübenbacher describes the lamp’s climate-neutral energy generation as “an aesthetic play” that enhances public space, beautifying streets and taking on the climate crisis in one fell swoop. “Design not only determines how street lights are working. It can also shape our attitude towards them and consequently affect how we use them,” he says. Because energy creation is often an invisible process, projects such as these help “the production of electricity become comprehensible.”

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The lamp’s ability to convert wind power into electricity can also be a huge benefit to naturally windy areas. And since it doesn’t require any electrical infrastructure, Trübenbacher sees an opportunity to install the street lights in remote settings or places where infrastructure innovations can be cost-prohibitive.

Trübenbacher has tested two working prototypes of Papilio around Berlin so far. It’s early in the process—he only presented the project a few days ago at his university—but he plans to do longer-term testing and then “get support from people who believe in the idea as much as I do.”

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About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.

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