This Colossal Solar Mountain Can Power Nearly Any Location on Earth

A power upgrade in the Nevada desert could change the world.
Brad Bergan
A wavy, undulating solar panel building in the desert.NUDES

Designs of the future are increasingly centering on environmental impact as the effects of climate change start to reach world-historical levels. This means not only engineers, but architects and artists are exploring new and unprecedented ways of reimagining their work to minimize intrusion on the natural environment.

Burning Man is a well-known annual event that brings a lot of entrepreneurial people into the presence of artists, which makes the development of "Solar Mountain" assemblies to potentially power the 3,800-acre ranch of Burning Man with 318,645 kWh of power per year less of a stretch of the imagination.

And if the design is brought to completion, it could enable civil engineers and artists to reimagine the way we generate power for communities around the world, in an unprecedented wave of nature-oriented collaboration.

'Solar Mountain' could hint at the future of eco-friendly architecture

The new design incorporates a gigantic assortment of solar panels stretching down a gradient from a central spine. The architects behind the new project claim it was inspired by the natural landscape of Fly Ranch — adjacent to Burning Man's location, at Black Rock City. The company — literally called NUDES — thinks this unconventional curving form more capably fits the dynamic landscape of geysers, wetlands, and hot and cold springs. As one of the 10 shortlisted proposals for the LAGI 2020 Fly Ranch design competition, NUDES plans to build a modular design composed of recycled wood and other eco-friendly materials.

The Solar Mountain is comprised of 182 solar panels rated at 300 W (1.2 kWh per day). Combining four "units" of the massive structure, we'd have 728 solar panels with a daily energy output of roughly 873 kWh — 318,645 kWh per year, according to NUDES in a Designboom report. And unlike, say, a conventional solar array park, the forthcoming Solar Mountain installation doubles as an interactive feature and community center for Burning Man joiners. "The narrative behind the design is divided into three parts: grow energy, interact, and play," said NUDES Founder and Principal Nuru Karim, in a My Modern Met report.

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When the litany of solar panels moves outward from the central spine, they engender a semi-covered walkway for people — where patterns of curious light accompany a passerby's way from the panel strips above. The Solar Mountain project is now moving on to its next design stage, which means it could effectively become an artistic workshop for new approaches to architecture and sustainable engineering that we'll see in the future of solar power applications.

Crucially, the modular design of Solar Mountain means technology developed in its construction could offer communities around the world new and eco-friendly alternatives to less sustainable forms of energy. Imagine living and working in a gigantic solar powered-frame in a city as old as Rome — providing shade and electricity without damaging the ancient architecture underneath. Imagine!

Solar Mountain could make Burning Man more sustainable

The wavy surface of Solar Mountain uses solar photovoltaic panels mixed with recycled timber to offer a permanent and off-grid power source. The installation will juxtapose nicely with indigenous animal species and more than 100 species of plants in the area — shooting for an aesthetics of "seamless blending," to suggest to all participants that human ingenuity, communities, and endeavors are actually complementary to the environment, rather than a burden. Each solar panel in the installation is 100ft (30m) long, between 16ft to 100ft (5m to 30m) wide, and reaches a maximum height of 50ft (15m). Obviously, a gigantic structure in the middle of the desert will also offer shade to overheated Burning Man attendees.

The energy from Solar Mountain could realistically reduce the carbon footprint of Burning Man, which — not counting the titular burning of a giant wooden man that serves as the climax of the event — has typically seen countless motorized fossil-fuel vehicles gather in the desert, making the proposition of living in or finding a hidden harmony with nature fairly ironic, from a strictly ecological perspective. But maybe that's about to change, and Burning Man will become an authentic force for good in the world. Anything's possible.


Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that the Solar Mountain installation assemblies could generate power of "300 MWH per year". This has been corrected to reflect the correct estimated solar panel, collective daily, and yearly power outputs of 300 W, 873 kWh and 318,645 kWh, respectively. The location of Burning Man was also corrected.

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