While I was sitting opposite Musiikkitalo – Helsinki Music Centre – on my way inside to see a performance a couple of weeks ago, I started wondering about renewable energy usage in cultural venues. Culture and art are often seen as pioneers when it comes to new ideas, ways of thinking and acting. Is this true also with renewables? I am interested in hands-on usage of, e.g. solar power, and self-sufficiency in energy production in culture and art. Since I realised I do not know anything about how cultural venues in Helsinki have approached the subject, I decided to explore the idea a bit further.
My assumption is that places where culture and art are practised use a lot of energy. If they are in the middle of a city, they are often sizeable buildings that host either a variety of activities and/or large art collections that require great amounts of electricity in lighting, sound system, stage engineering, temperature and humidity (art galleries), security, cafés and restaurants, and in overall functions of a building.
The place of my latest visit, Musiikkitalo building, is flanked by Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Finlandia Hall (the first picture), and Hakasalmi Villa which is part of Helsinki City Museum. The National Museum of Finland is also close by across the street. All these venues offer space for cultural activities that require a lot of energy in one way or another but only one of them does have solar panels installed: Finlandia Hall.
Finlandia Hall had panels installed in its roof in December 2016. The solar power plant of 180 panels (single panel 265W) produces approximately max 25% of the monthly energy consumption of the building (Helsinki City). Finlandia Hall states that it is committed to supporting sustainable development and that all their activities aim towards environmental responsibility. Furthermore, investing in renewable energy goes along the lines of the energy efficiency and zero-energy building principles of Helsinki.
But why doesn’t every large cultural venue have solar panels? It seems to me that renewable energy usage in culture buildings themselves is a perfect way to bind culture and art to the biggest questions on the planet right now. What I have gathered from news articles and conversations is that there is a willingness to contribute to sustainability with environmental choices but the desired action might not always be easy to carry out. So what are the obstacles to solar panel installation in cultural venues?
I can guess that many old buildings as well as architecturally significant buildings may not be on the top of the list when it comes to unproblematic solar panel installation. Urban planner Alpo Tani from Helsinki City Planning Department says that buildings of cultural historical value are often protected which means that you need a permission to make changes. When dealing with protected buildings, specific requirements need to be met when making changes and renovations. The same goes for built cultural environments. But protection does not prevent solar panels: the aforementioned Finlandia Hall is protected and has solar panels.
I have also been wondering whether the shape of the roof complicates matters. Modern architecture has some peculiar shaped roofs which might not offer possibilities for solar panel installation. Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, for example, has an interesting looking curved roof. However, Miko Huomo from GreenEnergy Finland Ltd that installed the panels of Finlandia Hall as well as Tampere Hall in Tampere reveals that the ideal roof for solar panels is an even surface stretching out to one direction but that it is not necessary. If the surface area is more complicated and does not have a lot of large even surfaces, the panels can be installed into smaller groups.
I also wanted to find out what other obstacles except possibly weird roof surfaces and the protection of cultural historically valuable buildings could hinder solar panel installation. According to Miko Huomo, the shadow of another building may prevent installation. A high building close by might cast too much shadows on the neighbouring roof so that the sun does not have a clear route to the panels.
These three are all very physical ways that can test solar power plant construction on rooftops. There are probably other ways that can hinder changing into renewables despite the desire to do so. Possible other obstacles could be the expenses and the ownership of a building.
I had an inkling that solar panels were not common in buildings that housed cultural events or art galleries. Mainly because of the rules and regulations around protected buildings. It seems to me that there are some interesting challenges to overcome when aiming to go solar such as shadows of high structures or buildings, peculiar roofs, and how to integrate solar panels while preserving a cultural historically protected building. I was happy to find out that a popular architectural sight and venue such as Finlandia Hall already had solar panels and that many cultural venues were interested in sustainability. I am curious to see what will happen in the future in regards to cultural buildings and renewable energy.
Written for Global Senses
Text by Tiina Junno
Sources: City of Helsinki, Green Energy Finland Ltd, Helsinki City Planning Department