Power plants needn’t be ugly – let’s make them green and beautiful


Power plants needn’t be ugly – let’s make them green and beautiful

Energy suppliers often refer to their industry as being caught in a “trilemma”, as people demand electricity that is both secure and cheap, while also being clean.

But maybe it’s time to add a forth consideration to the list – beauty.

Just as we marvel at Roman aqueducts or Victorian railways, so we could design power plants, solar panels, turbines and other infrastructure to be beautiful additions to the landscape. As we move away from ugly coal and gas, we have a great chance to celebrate low carbon energy with imaginative new designs.

UK energy minister Amber Rudd seems to agree. Speaking last year about nuclear energy, she stated: “I think it is a reasonable ambition to make sure that these big projects have aesthetic appeal as well [as being functional] to help win the public over.”

Yet there are two problems to look out for. First, it is unreasonable to merely mask controversial or potentially environmentally damaging developments with a veneer of “attractiveness”. Managing public opinion with pretty designs does not supplant other valid concerns such as the choice of location or huge construction costs.

Second, even where “beautiful” design is sought as part of an environmentally responsible scheme, how individuals define and perceive “beauty” will certainly be a highly variable affair. One person’s majestic wind turbine is another person’s imposing eyesore. Like any type of architecture, judgements about beauty will depend on highly personal preferences, and how the new design relates to its existing context. […]