Go back to article: Turning energy around: an interactive exhibition experience

Behind the curtains – knowledge repository and emotive challenges

The exhibition energie.wenden emphasises the public’s ability to creatively contribute to the process of energy transition. This is accomplished, for example, by means of participatory elements that integrate ideas and photographs provided by the public. In addition, numerous interactive elements, such as hands-on displays and activity stations, are included. The following examples illustrate how we tackled, in particular, social and emotive aspects.

The development of new wind farms often face public resistance. Discussions about wind energy can be very emotional and confrontational, not least because there are no easy answers in weighing up the pros and cons of introducing wind farms. Does climate protection really outweigh the fear of potentially harmful effects from noise and alternating shadows? Is it more important to create a sustainable energyscape than protect local landscapes and wildlife? The ongoing discussion is crucial for the future role of wind energy. To illustrate this conundrum, we let visitors decide for themselves. On two separate drums, pro and con arguments are displayed. Turning the drums leaves the visitors with a random combination of one argument for, and one against, wind turbines (Figure 8). The visitors are thereby confronted with the difficulty of having to favour one side, where rational decisions can’t really be made.

Figure 8

Colour photograph of a museum visitor interacting with a display case

Turning the drums results in a random combination of one argument for, and one against, wind turbines

Controversial topics are not only illustrated by interactives, but also by objects. Half of the Thematic Room on nuclear energy is dedicated to the division between opportunities and risks of nuclear energy. An ensemble of two figures – Godzilla and Astro Boy – strikingly symbolises this ambivalence. The two figures originate in Japan, a country that has experienced both the devastating consequences of nuclear weapons and those of a nuclear accident. But Japan is also a country whose electricity generation relied to almost one third on nuclear energy up to 2011[3]. In the exhibition, the two icons face each other irreconcilably, visually divided by a blizzard (see Figure 9). The creation of the fictional monster Godzilla was inspired by US nuclear bomb tests. Godzilla, being awakened by the tests, takes revenge by spreading his radioactive, fiery breath on humanity. Comic book hero Astro Boy, on the other hand, represents the enormous hopes placed on nuclear energy: the android is powered by a miniature nuclear reactor in his chest and he uses this energy to fight for peace (Schodt, 2007). In 1980, however, the inventor turned Astro Boy´s heart into a nuclear fusion reactor, pointing the way to a potential nuclear energy source far less fraught with dangers.

Figure 9

Colour photograph of Godzilla and Astro Boy models on display in a glass case

Godzilla and Astro Boy 

In the centre of each Thematic Room visitors will find the Key Issue, an interactive element illustrating the main obstacles on the way to a sustainable energy system. One of these Key Issues is a slot machine (see Figure 10) located in the room on solar and wind energy. It simulates the volatility of these energy sources, which can make reliable power generation seem like a gamble unless the necessary measures are installed. This bridges the gap to another Thematic Room in which the two topics, energy storage and grids, form an inseparable pair. They frame the common Key Issue – a large interactive topographical model that simulates a future energyscape (see Figure 11). The task for the visitors is to create a stable energy supply based entirely on renewables. At the various consoles, they can adapt the output of the energy generators and the consumption of factories and households. A balance can also be ensured by charging and discharging various storage facilities. A major challenge is to cover shortages or overproduction as a result of the fluctuation from wind and solar plants, depending on uncontrollable (but not unforeseeable) weather conditions. Visitors must also make sure that the same amount of energy is fed into the grid as is being taken out elsewhere to avoid a collapse! But there are certain restrictions: electric cars have to be charged in the morning for the trip to work, factories have to continue producing goods, and at home people want to shower in the evenings or watch the international football match on television. Visitors will soon discover that communication and coordination of their actions is essential, thereby becoming figuratively a Smart Grid themselves.

Figure 10

Colour photograph of a museum visitor interacting with a slot machine display case

A slot machine illustrates the volatility of sun and wind energy

Figure 11

Colour photograph of museum visitors viewing a display on renewables

The future energyscape based entirely on renewables requires communication and coordination

The participatory Key Issues in particular aim to make visitors question their own behaviour in a non-condescending manner. In the mobility room, we show photos contributed by the public. The mobile of pictures forms a colourful potpourri of preferred travel modes, illustrating in a playful way one of the main obstacles to a shift in the mobility sector: we love the way we travel, be it crossing Europe in an old van or island hopping in the Caribbean. However, an energy transition demands that we reduce our travels and move on to more climate friendly forms of transport.[4] Similarly, the Key Issue ‘Buying Happiness’ in the production and consumption room consists of ‘useless objects’ donated by our visitors (see Figure 12). Here a melodica that has never been played lies next to a toilet guest book and a toy motorboat. They all have in common that they were once objects of desire, but in the end only made for a short moment of pleasure and have then been forgotten about. They represent all the grey energy that is embodied in the things we possess and build awareness for the way in which changing consumption patterns can reduce energy usage. The personal stories invite visitors to examine their own behaviours in the light of other people’s useless objects, offering new ways of thinking about what we need and value.

Figure 12

Colour photographs of a melodica instrument a stuffed flamingo toy and Super Mario figures

‘Useless objects’ donated by visitors to the Deutsches Museum

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180909/005