April 13, 2022
Just in time for Earth Day, April 22, the Arts and Industries Building’s “FUTURES” exhibition and Smithsonian Gardens will partner with First Solar to debut new “Recharge Stations,” the Smithsonian’s first major installation that makes interactive solar power available to the public. With this eco-friendly addition, millions of visitors will be able to recharge their batteries in new ways—both by taking a seat to connect to nature and by plugging in their portable devices—in a real-world introduction to the potential of solar energy.
The “Recharge Stations” will be on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, located on the National Mall in between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building (AIB) and the Castle, the Smithsonian’s historic center. The gazebo-like installations are covered with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that power charge several devices at once, run cooling fans and offer shaded resting spots. They will also power electronic landscaping equipment that Smithsonian horticulturists will use to maintain and beautify the surrounding gardens—part of the institution’s goal to reduce its carbon footprint.
“FUTURES” is the Smithsonian’s first major building-wide exploration of the future, at the historic AIB in the heart of the National Mall. The part-exhibition, part-festival is open through July 6 and celebrates the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary with more than 150 awe-inspiring objects, ideas, prototypes and installations that fuse art, technology, design and history to help visitors imagine many possible futures on the horizon. Smithsonian Gardens welcome more than 25 million annual visitors and has 13 exhibition gardens throughout the National Mall and Washington, D.C., making it one of the most highly visited public gardens in the world. Often called a “museum without walls,” Smithsonian Gardens offers a vibrant and vital living classroom and urban sanctuary.
The Recharge Stations will be a spotlight of “Earth Days @ FUTURES: A Sustainable Celebration” the weekend of Friday, April 22–Sunday, April 24. The festival features a journey through the food, energy, transportation and communities that could help meet the Earth’s needs today and for generations to come. This includes a FUTURES Food Market, an energy-efficient silent disco, an interactive biodegradable living art wall, special tours, seed giveaways, a bike maintenance station and more.
The eco-efficient thin-film solar PV panels used in the Recharge Stations are both recycled and recyclable. They use a semiconductor material—a thin film just 3% the thickness of a human hair that can capture and transform energy—that is made from by-products of the mining industry that would otherwise be relegated to a waste pit. It can also be recycled over 40 times, with the potential to generate clean energy for over 1,200 years.
At the end of their 30-year-long useful life, the panels can be recycled with a 90% recovery rate. The semiconductor material can be recycled into new modules, their glass can be recycled into glass containers and the laminate can be converted into latex for use in bicycle handles and shoe soles.
The design of the stations is inspired by biomimicry, echoing the shapes and functions of plant leaves. “Just as plants use the sun’s energy to create food, the solar panels transform the same renewable resource into the uniquely modern need of clean energy,” said Joy Columbus, director of Smithsonian Gardens. “We’re incredibly excited to offer our visitors this glimpse of a functional clean energy future in such a fascinating and engaging way.”
The Recharge Stations were designed by and donated to the Smithsonian by First Solar, a leading sustainable solar energy technology company. Debuting as part of “FUTURES,” the stations are currently intended to be on display in the Haupt Garden through early 2023, before moving to new locations across Smithsonian to welcome and inspire visitors for years to come.
“As America’s solar company, we’re delighted that our solar modules are generating clean solar electricity on the National Mall, in the heart of our nation’s capital,” said Samantha Sloan, vice president of policy, First Solar. “The United States has a long history of clean-energy innovation, and partnering with the Smithsonian allows us to create a tribute to the thousands of Americans that power the solar industry today. In addition, by giving the millions of visitors to the Smithsonian Gardens an opportunity to interact with solar energy, we hope to educate and inspire the public about the potential of our most abundant energy resource.”
Founded in 1999, Arizona-headquartered First Solar is the only American company and the only producer of thin-film PV technology among the world’s 10 largest solar manufacturers. The company’s solar panels, developed at R&D labs in California and Ohio, power utility-scale solar power plants across the United States and in over 45 countries around the world.
About the Arts + Industries Building
The Arts and Industries Building (AIB) is a home for the future-curious. The Smithsonian’s second-oldest building opened in 1881 as America’s first National Museum, an architectural icon in the heart of the National Mall. Its soaring halls introduced millions to wonders about to change the world—Edison’s lightbulb, the first telephone, Apollo rockets. Dubbed “Palace of Wonders” and “Mother of Museums,” AIB incubated new Smithsonian museums for over 120 years before finally closing to the public in 2004. “FUTURES” is a milestone first step in the long-term plan to renovate and permanently reopen this landmark space. For more information, visit aib.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
About Smithsonian Gardens
Since its inception in 1972, Smithsonian Gardens has extended the Smithsonian’s museum experience in a public garden setting, inspiring visitors with exceptional displays and educating them about horticulture, plants, the natural and build environments and artistic design. Its research and educational programs promote the ongoing development of collections of living plants, garden documentation and horticultural artifacts. Smithsonian Gardens is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. For more information, visit the Smithsonian Gardens website.