Photographer Tom Hegen has captured a stunning series of aerial photos showing what sprawling solar power plants look like from a bird’s-eye view. The project is titled The Solar Power Series.
Hegen “provides an overview of places where we extract, refine and consume resources,” his website reads. “Ultimately, he delivers insights into the complex relationship between human and their environment. Often choosing to document abstract perspectives, he reads landscapes based on their significance within the global human impact on planet earth.”
Shooting Solar Plants from the Sky
In 2021, Hegen traveled through the United States, France, and Spain to photograph vast solar energy infrastructures that will be delivering clean energy for generations to come. The photos were shot from a helicopter.
“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,” Hegen writes in his artist statement for the series. “Having this in mind, renewable energy sources could be the key to combating climate change.
“What does transforming towards more sustainable sources of energy look like? This series explores solar power plants in the United States, France, and Spain. These man-made, constructed landscapes represent our efforts of building a more sustainable future in the most sophisticated ways.”
The locations seen in Hegen’s project include the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California’s Mojave Desert, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada, the Les Mées Solar Farm in France, the PS10 Solar Power Plant near Seville in Spain, and the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant that’s also near Seville, Spain.
Two Types of Solar Power Plants
The neatly-arranged circular facilities seen in Hegen’s images are solar thermal power plants, which focus sunlight from thousands of moving mirrors called heliostats onto a central collector tower. While earlier designs of these plants used the heat from the focused light to heat water and generate steam, newer plants use molten salts to store energy, boil water, and drive turbines to generate electricity — the ability of the salts to store heat allows energy to be generated even after the sun goes down.
Non-circular solar plants are photovoltaic power stations (or solar farms), which use the same technology found on residential roofs. Photovoltaic modules are used to convert light directly into electricity.
A View of Unintended Artistic Beauty
“Aerial photography, to me, is like data visualization for scientists,” Hegen says in a 2022 interview with Fortune. “The elevated perspective has such a remarkable ability to show the scale and context of a landscape. I also enjoy the abstraction and aestheticization that comes with changing the perspective.
“There is no time for me to experience the landscape and see all its details [when up in the air]. When I come back from production and look at the images on a large monitor, I have a second encounter with the landscape and can explore all the details in the scenery.”
The photographer tells Fortune that he often sees unintentional artistic beauty in the way humans interact with the planet in large-scale ways.
“[Aerial photography] shows dimensions and reveals insights we wouldn’t be able to see from the ground,” the photographer says. “None of the places I photograph have been intentionally designed to be viewed from the air and make visual sense. This demonstrates that we are all artists, creating on the canvas of the earth’s surface.
“In this context, I see myself as a curator looking at places that we have drastically altered.”
Image credits: All photographs by Tom Hegen.