We talk a lot about renewable energy sources and moving toward a greener future. And in those discussions, solar power is at the forefront. But what does it actually look like to use solar panels on a large scale? Aerial photographer Tom Hegen traveled to three countries to take a look for himself. The Solar Power Series is a look at solar plants and the manmade landscape looking to salvage our future.
Hegen, who takes his images from a helicopter, has long been fascinated by the human impact on the environment. And recently, this has included a deep investigation into alternative energy sources. As part of that look, Hegen was drawn to solar plants and how this new technology—if used properly—could keep the planet powered for generations to come.
“In a single hour, the amount of power from the Sun that strikes the Earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year,” the German photographer tells My Modern Met. “Saying this, the Sun‘s energy would be enough to keep the world running for at least the next five million years. The question here is can we make enough use of that energy?”
He was inspired to seek out these solar farms after encountering a cluster of solar fields near the French Alps. It struck him that they looked like endless waves on the hilltops and he set out to look for others. His journey took him to Spain and the United States. As always, the work was a challenge when attempting to create visual magic while photographing from the open door of a helicopter.
“I wanted the mirrors to reflect the morning sky, while the ground was still dark. Other images had been taken during harsh sunlight. Up in the air, it can be very cold. I have to stand against the wind of the rotor blades. It is hardly possible to keep the camera steady. It is actually the worst environment to take pictures. In the end, it‘s only a few seconds when everything comes in line. Often, we were looping around the structures at different heights to find the perfect angle.”
In the end, the effort paid off. The Solar Power Series is oddly mesmerizing, as the panels are laid out in concentric circles or neat rows. The repetitive pattern on the landscape is soothing yet also an odd transformation at the same time. The environment has been inextricably altered by man yet again, but perhaps this time for a greater good. It's an interesting question to grapple with as one is drawn into the work.