Making Solar Data Visualizations

Introduction: Making Solar Data Visualizations

About: I make things with computers and glue! I'm a creative technologist, maker, and educator and operate a small fabrication / interactive design company from my garage. I also teach digital fabrication, product de…

How much sunlight does your town or city get throughout the year? Let's find out by making your own tangible solar data visualization!

How does this visualization work? What do those rings mean? Please watch the video to find out!

As you can see in the video, my solar visualization was created using some creative coding, a Glowforge laser cutter, a Shopbot CNC machine and an Arduino microcontroller. However, your solar visualization can be made out of any material using simple tools. We'll talk more about that later :)

I turned my solar data visualization into a clock. Each ring is one hour. The top ring is midnight; the bottom ring is 11:00pm. The current hour lights up. The base is a calendar that helps me to see how much sunlight hits my town at any given time of the year.

Okay, now it's time to create a solar visualization based on your location.

Step 1: Generate Your Model

Thankfully, generating the shapes for your model is easy. I created a website that generates the shapes for you: https://www.makingdatatangible.com/solar/

For all of you Python nerds out there - the website generates the shapes using a Python library called Pysolar.

To generate the shapes:

  1. Visit https://www.makingdatatangible.com/solar/
  2. Search for your location and hit the 'Build' button.
  3. The website will begin generating the shapes for your model. This may take up to two minutes.
  4. When the website is finished creating your model, click the 'Download Files' button.
  5. Unzip your file. It should include 24 .svg files. 0.svg is midnight; 23.svg is 11:00pm.
  6. Use a vector editor such as Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer or Inkscape to resize (or modify) your .svg files if needed.

Now, comes the fun part!

Step 2: Assemble Your Model

I turned my visualization into a clock. However, you can turn your visualization into an art piece, jewelry, or even a game. This is your chance to be creative :)

You can create your solar data visualization out of any material, such as paper, cardboard, fabric, wood, plastic, metal, etc. Depending on what material you choose, you can cut your shapes using scissors, a bandsaw, a Cricut or a laser cutter.

For example, you might choose resize the shapes, print them on card stock using a laser printer and cut out each shape using a pair of scissors. Or, you might decide that cutting out the shapes using a CNC machine is a better option.

To assemble the shapes, you'll probably need some glue. Or maybe not? Instead, you might decide to merge all of the shapes together and 3D print a blob! That would look amazing!

You solar visualization can be any size. If you're making earrings, your visualization will be tiny. But if you're making something HUGE, you'll need to be creative about your problem solving.

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I'd love to see how you create your own solar visualizations. Feel free to share your creations below! Also, if you have any questions, please email me at: kuiphoff[at]gmail.com. I'm always happy to help.

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