MUSE School, a 10-year-old private school located off Las Virgenes/Malibu Canyon roads, was founded on the principles of being green and teaching environmental awareness and sustainable living practices to its students. Last week, at the school’s annual gala, they took that philosophy one step further by unveiling a series of five, 30-foot-wide “solar sunflowers,” which are expected to generate most of the school’s energy needs.
The “solar sunflowers” are actually an artistic array of solar panels configured to look like a giant sunflower. They were designed by local filmmaker James (Jim) Cameron, director of “Titanic” and “Avatar,” as a birthday gift for his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron. She and her sister, educator Rebecca Amis, co-founded MUSE in 2006.
“The design was intended to create a functional art piece,” Cameron said. “The form is a celebration of life [and shows] that solar can be a creative, artistic addition to landscaping. The sunflowers would be welcome anywhere — malls, civic centers, parks and schools.”
Each sunflower is made up of five separate frames that are individually welded and then bolted together, with 14 “petals” welded to the perimeter. They are equipped with a sun tracking system that turns the flower to face the sun throughout the day.
To encourage similar projects, Cameron plans to put his design for the sunflowers on the Internet as “open source”— it can be freely used, changed and shared in its many forms by anyone. The design is currently patent pending to prevent anyone from stealing it before it goes open source.
“Since MUSE was founded with a mission to inspire and prepare young people to live consciously with themselves, one another and the planet, we have worked over time to develop one of the greenest campuses in the country and Jim’s sunflowers will serve many purposes on site,” said Amis Cameron. “The science and technology of the sunflowers will be rich areas for students to explore, along with the creativity of the design.”
The fabrication and installation of the sunflowers was actually completed in mid-April, and the artistic solar panels have been providing — depending upon available daylight — 75 to 90 percent of MUSE Prime campus’ power. In fact, some early tests exceeded expectations and indicated that the sunflowers may be capable of generating all of the campus’ power needs.
Students of all grade levels are studying the design, engineering, construction and mathematics of the sunflowers, with activities that include their own sunflower blueprints and models, and various energy calculations.
A web-based “dashboard” is being developed that will monitor the amount of energy generated by the sunflowers as well as the energy consumed by MUSE. It will also give the students a tool to view how sunflower-generated solar power offsets various environmental equivalents, such as the number of trees planted, homes powered, gas saved and carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.
The sunflowers are just the latest effort in the school’s goal of going as green as possible. In late 2010, MUSE embarked on a campus remodel, emphasizing the ultimate in sustainable building design, reuse and eco-friendly materials. During the construction process, their building goals were, and continue to be, diverting all construction waste from landfills, operating with the highest possible energy efficiency, constructing zero-net energy buildings that generate as much energy as they consume and constructing zero-emissions buildings that have no carbon footprint.
The school also runs a Seed-to-Table Program, where students and staff work in on-campus organic gardens and greenhouses to grow food from seeds. In the kitchen, they work with chefs to turn their harvest into school snacks and lunches.