James Cameron, Suzy Amis Cameron Unveil ‘Solar Sun Flowers' Project

Five are installed at the MUSE School CA campus, where they are expected to power about 90 percent of on-site energy needs.
Stefanie Keenan, Courtesy of MUSE School CA

“My incredible husband really knows how to give a girl a bouquet of flowers,” Suzy Amis-Cameron said of James Cameron, who designed Solar Sun Flowers for her as a gift when she was seeking a way to bring renewable energy to MUSE School CA, which she co-founded with a mission around sustainability.

Five were recently installed on the 22-acre Malibu Canyon campus and are generating roughly 300 kilowatt hours per day, with expectations to offset the non-profit school’s power usage between 75 percent and 90 percent — possibly 100 percent at times — depending on available daylight. And the patent-pending design will next be available, free and open-source, to encourage wider use.

Nearly 30-feet in diameter and with a 16 ft. tall 'stem,' each unit is designed to resemble a sun flower and rotate with the position of the sun (effectively functioning like the flower), driven by a central tracker that uses astronomical calculations to determine the sun’s position. An anemometer is used to measure wind speed, and when it is too great, the system will move into a flat stow position.

The Avatar director is of course also an innovator who has developed pioneering filmmaking technology, as well as a submersible which took him on a record-breaking solo dive to the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. Three years ago, the couple was in Sydney while he was developing the submersible, and he was looking for a special gift for his wife’s birthday. That’s when he came up with this approach to solar — a “functional art piece” that was both “fun and symbolic.”

“So much of her focus was on MUSE, and the school stood for something — the way in which we conduct our relationship with the planet. I though we should try to do something that inspires because this is about kids. Once you capture their imagination and empower them, they can do anything,” he said at an unveiling, held during the weekend in conjunction with the school’s annual gala.

He started on the Solar Sun Flowers by sketching the initial idea — as he did with the submersible — and then evolved the design by working with an Avatar CG artist. His wife admitted that she cried when during her birthday dinner “he brought out a presentation with pictures of MUSE, and Photoshopped in were these flowers.”

“Here we are three years later, I thought it was going to take six months. I always go over schedule, “ James Cameron joked.

As to the next step, he explained: “When we saw that there was a positive response to the design, we started to discuss maybe we do a startup company. But I thought, if we do that we’ll build several hundred. But if we make the design open source and publish the plans online and empower anyone to use this idea, there may be ten thousand. They can be integrated into landscape architecture. … I think it’s a beautiful way to express the spirit of what solar energy is all about.

“As of today we have a patent pending on the design; the reason for that is to block anyone from taking the design and starting a company and not allowing the open-source usage,” he added. “We are going to try to empower everyone who might be interested in this to make their own.”

He told his wife that she inspired the design, adding that while he was developing an upcoming Avatar-themed Cirque de Soleil traveling show (which is now planned for arenas), “I said ‘wouldn’t it be great if when it shows up in town the trucks opened up and they were solar powered,’ and you said ‘they could open up like a big flower.’ So it was actually your idea.”

Suzy Amis Cameron, who co-founded MUSE School with her sister, Rebecca Amis, noted that the Solar Sun Flowers will also be incorporated into the school’s science curriculum “from engineering to energy, solar and nature.” She added that a digital “dashboard” is being developed that will monitor the amount of energy generated by the Sun Flowers, as well as the energy consumed by MUSE. It will also give the students a tool to view the ways that Sun Flowers are offsetting various environmental equivalents, such as the number of trees planted, homes powered, gas saved, carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and gallons of water used by a coal fired steam plant.

This is a personal mission for the Camerons, who have already incorporated solar power at their ranch.

And at Manhattan Beach Studios — where the director’s Lightstorm Entertainment operates — the roofs of five of the soundstages are covered with a solar array, which Lightstorm installed while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Studio.

"There’s a big [investment] up front, and then it usually amortizes itself over 5-10 years and then you get free power," he said. "I think people need to take responsibility on an individual level. When I’m flying over LA, I see hundreds of acres of rooftops that are just baking in the sun. That’s free power that’s going to waste.”

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