The AI-generated solar-panel paintings you wish were real

DALL-E and other AI tools make a mind meld of cleantech and great art.

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Canary Media’s Friday Social column explores the intersection of energy, climate and social media. Canary thanks Silverline Communications for its support of the column.

There are a lot of companies using artificial intelligence (AI) to scale climatetech solutions. This article is not about them. My column falls squarely in Canary’s Fun Stuff” category, and I aim to keep it that way. But I do want to talk about AI and climatetech.

A few months before the 2020 election, I used an AI game called AI Dungeon to create a scenario in which I hosted a virtual energy-themed debate between then-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

Yes, this is what I did for fun during the pre-vaccine phase of the pandemic.

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The game uses GPT-3, an AI model developed by OpenAI (founded in part by Elon Musk) that produces mind-blowingly realistic human-like text.

Here’s an excerpt of that debate, with all of the Biden and Trump quotes written entirely by AI.

Every time I use AI Dungeon, I come away baffled and amused.

I’m now always on the lookout for fun AI tools (or games) to play with. 

Enter DALL-E

In January 2021, OpenAI introduced the world to another you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it tool called DALL-E. I’ll avoid getting into the technical details and just say that DALL-E uses AI to create images based on text that a user provides.

Perhaps the most widely shared and written about images from the early days of DALL-E were the avocado chairs:

(OpenAI)

Interest in the tool has been overwhelming — I am one of the million slightly impatient people now on the waiting list to get access to DALL-E. In recent months, OpenAI has started increasing its availability, and while I am not one of the lucky few who have gotten to try it, I came across someone else in the climatetech space who has.

Jon Amihud is the director of corporate communications and social at Palmetto, a clean-energy marketplace that — you guessed it — leverages a proprietary AI model. Given that Palmetto is in the business of AI, he thought it would be fitting to use DALL-E as a content-generating tool for both its blog and social media.

Solar artists

Amihud and Palmetto’s content team got to work and soon enough came up with an idea. As they wrote on Twitter, We used DALL-E to imagine how famous artists of the past would’ve created masterpieces if solar-powered homes were their muses.” 

The results are great, so I wanted to show them all here in full detail. Below you will see the prompt the Palmetto team typed in and the results populated by DALL-E.

A solar-powered home, Vincent van Gogh style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

An oil painting by Matisse of a modern home with solar panels”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A modern home with solar panels, Andy Warhol style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A modern home with solar panels, Frida Kahlo style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Jean-Michel Basquiat style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Pablo Picasso style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A surrealist dream-like oil painting by Salvador Dali of solar panels”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Claude Monet style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Rembrandt style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Mark Rothko style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

A solar-powered home, Jackson Pollock style”

(DALL-E/Palmetto)

Now it’s my turn

I asked Amihud if I could send him a few prompts to enter into DALL-E, and he happily agreed to help.

The phrases I provided fall under the theme of making electrification mainstream. I had previously tried to use a free copycat of DALL-E called DALL-E Mini (not affiliated with OpenAI) to do the same and had disastrous results. This is why I’ve been keen to try the real DALL-E.

Here’s the first prompt I gave to Amhud along with one of the results:

A still from a Wes Anderson movie showing homes with heat pumps”

(DALL-E/Canary Media)

I thought DALL-E nailed the colors and some of the symmetry, but I was hoping for a bit more from the heat pumps themselves.

Next up, I sent over the prompt:

Lightning McQueen plugged into an EV charger” (Lightning McQueen is a red racecar that is the main character in the Pixar movie Cars.)

(DALL-E/Canary Media)

I thought this image was pretty good. It looked more like a real-life version of Lightning McQueen than the cartoon version that I expected the tool to spit out.

Lastly, I wanted to make a graphic that would promote induction stoves to the masses, so I needed a famous chef as a subject. I picked the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. (If you can’t tell yet, I have two young children.)

My final prompt:

Swedish Chef Muppet unboxing his new induction stove”

(DALL-E/Canary Media)

I am so sorry you had to see this.

Instead of showing the well-known Muppet character, DALL-E spit out a chef with frightening muppet features. The AI clearly got confused at the Swedish” bit. OpenAI warns users that mistakes like this can happen in its introductory blog post. 

So while the AI is doing the heavy lifting, one could argue that there actually is some art to how you word the prompts you enter into the tool. It takes creativity and a lot of trial and error to hone your craft. I like to think of tools like DALL-E, DALL-E2 (the new and improved version), and AI Dungeon as the cyborgification of art — one part computer, one part human.

It’s also a lot of fun. Palmetto’s Amihud noted the great traction that the company’s DALL-E posts are getting, and said, It brings a much-needed sense of levity to an often very serious industry.” 

Hear, hear!

To try your hand at it, join the waitlist or give DALL-E Mini a spin. Just note that there is a long lag between entering your prompt and seeing the resulting images. If you create some great (or nightmarish) climatetech graphics, be sure to tag Canary Media on Twitter.

Silverline Communications, the supporter of this column, is a climatetech and sustainability communications firm with deep experience in all facets of the clean economy. Learn more about how Silverline connects clients with stakeholders on social channels and beyond.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.