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

Clear exhibition structure for complex content

We believe that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ energy transition, but rather different paths that lead to successfully achieving a sustainable energy system. The main message of the exhibition is: Let’s make energy transition happen — but how? By choosing a rather informal design and colloquial form we explicitly address a target audience of students and young adults (from about 14 years on) who we consider crucial to the transformation process[2]. To facilitate participation, we provide general scientific knowledge as well as social context and motivate visitors to make their own decisions – within the exhibition as well as in real life.

The exhibition consists of three parts: a prologue, the main part including the interactive game, and an epilogue.

Figure 3

Computer generated top down view of an exhibition space

The exhibition floor plan

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors encounter emblematic objects depicting major changes in the energy supply system from the beginning of industrialisation to the current situation. The objects represent both technological and historical transformations: the transition from a wood-based to a coal-based energy system, the electrification of the world and finally the fossil fuel era, which began in the second half of the twentieth century and led to a massive increase in energy consumption (see Figure 4).

A timeline consisting of graphics and illustrations serves as an opportunity to learn about general terms and principles of energy. It also illustrates how energy consumption, population and COemissions have grown vastly over the past decades. By the time visitors reach the end of the prologue it has become clear that humanity’s tremendous thirst for energy led to two major problems: the depletion of finite fossil fuel resources and global warming, caused by the combustion of these fuels.

Figure 4

Colour photographs of a steam engine model a dial current generator and an internal combustion engine on display

Emblematic objects in the prologue. From the left to the right: a 1792 Watt Steam Engine-Model; a Direct Current Generator from the 1890s and an Internal Combustion Engine from the mid twentieth century

Main exhibit
At this point, visitors are asked to take action. We ask them to get involved and design their own energy transition. Slipping into the role of a politician they meet virtual stakeholders who confront them with their opinions and demands. The visitors finally need to take a stand and choose political measures to advance their energy transition. This role-playing game takes place in the so-called ‘Political Arena’ located in the centre of the exhibition (yellow area in Figure 3). To provide visitors with helpful clues, basic facts and ideas, we created Thematic Rooms dedicated to ten different fields of energy transition, which serve as knowledge repositories:

o    Organic Resources – The renewables
o    Fossil Fuels – What are the limits?
o    Nuclear Energy – The great divider
o    Water and Geothermal Energy – Constant current
o    Sun and Wind – No consistency
o    Storage – The great equaliser!
o    Grids – Connecting everything!
o    Mobility – In a rut?
o    Living Space – Conservation on all Levels?
o    Trade – Market place of possibilities?

These Thematic Rooms can also provide a more classical exhibition experience. Visitors can choose to stay out of the political arena and enjoy memorable exhibits, fascinating demonstrations, and informative media stations and graphics.

Figure 5

Colour photograph of a bright exhibition space with display objects

View into the thematic rooms

Furthermore, each Thematic Room includes various recurring elements. For example, specially designed world maps provide an initial overview of the global situation for each room and a series of ‘Spotlights on the World’ illustrate the very different approaches to sustainable energy supply around the globe. Another recurring element is the ‘Key Issue’, a feature that takes different forms throughout the exhibition. Here, a central challenge to achieving a sustainable and secure energy supply – like the volatility of sun and wind energy – is crystallised into a single, memorable example for each Thematic Room. The issues, which at times can be quite abstract, are thereby made accessible to visitors through an interactive element. In addition, the core issue is always presented in relation to political decision making, thus forming a link between the Thematic Rooms and the Political Arena.

Semi-transparent materials make the Thematic Rooms light and airy, while illuminated backgrounds in different colours give each room its own distinctive aesthetic. A separate background design was developed for each topic; using the form of a storyboard, it combines the exhibits, texts and diagrams into a visual narrative (see Figure 5). This clear organisational concept provides orientation for visitors in the multitude of topics and the highly complex issue that is energy transition. Although there is no set route for visitors to follow, there is a clear guiding structure.

Figure 6

Colour photograph of a bright exhibition space with display objects and visitors

A Thematic Room with the Key Issue in the centre

The epilogue closes the circle by taking the visitor back to the prologue, both spatially and thematically: this highlights the continuing story of energy transitions. Additionally, climate targets of individual countries and of the world as a whole are presented. The epilogue also contains a unique art project by Sabine Köhl: in a fictional archaeological dig of the year 3051 curious objects of the year 2050 are discovered. This scenario is an imaginative reflection upon a possible future. Peculiar artefacts and whimsical interpretations depict a world in which a sustainable energy supply system has long been successfully implemented. Looking back from the distant future of 3051, however, it is regarded as unsophisticated. The objects and descriptions challenge the visitor’s imagination, for each person ultimately has to decide for themselves what each of the finds had originally been used for.

Figure 7

Colour photograph of museum objects on display in a glass case

Curious objects made by Sabine Köhl

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/180909/004