Discarded Solyndra Solar Tubes Used in Berkeley Art Installation

sol grotto 1© Matthew Millman

Once upon a time, Solyndra was a clean tech darling. Its unique cylindrical solar panel design, made up of reflective glass solar tubes seemed like it was going to revolutionize the industry, but a mismanagement of finances led to bankruptcy and one of the worst venture capital failures in history.

Though it's been unfortunate that one company's failure has colored the nation's perception of solar technology ventures, something equally unfortunate has been the fate of all that cutting edge technology that Solyndra created. What would happen to the panels already manufactured? Turns out most of the solar tubes were destined to be destroyed, because supposedly the cost of storing them was greater than their value.

Several glass tubes were salvaged though and artists Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello have built a public art exhibit using the tubes called "SOL Grotto." The outdoor installation is part of the Natural Discourse exhibit at the University of California Berkeley Botanical Garden, running until January 2013.

sol grotto 3© Matthew Millman

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden describes the exhibit:

Descending into the Strawberry Creek from the California Native section of the Berkeley Botanical Gardens, one discovers The SOL Grotto. Inside is an array of nearly 1,400 glass tubes that transmit light into the cool, dark space. The glass tubes are illuminated naturally to an electric-blue color from the ambient light and change throughout the day. The tubes take on the form of a cave wall or a waterfall. The view through the rods is simultaneously kaleidoscopic and mesmeric. The sound of a waterfall is present inside The SOL Grotto and the combination of sound, light, views and coolness filtering through the cracks in the flooring creates a highly sensorial space.

sol grotto 2© Matthew Millman

The glass tubes are embedded into a specially-made shed in a wave-like pattern. The tubes channel light from the outside to the inside of the shed.

"The glass is so conductive, even on a foggy day it glows," Rael told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Discarded Solyndra Solar Tubes Used in Berkeley Art Installation
The once-cutting edge solar tube design is now being used in a public art exhibit at the University of California at Berkeley Botanical Garden.

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