Solar Building Blocks

Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing photos of buildings and other structures made from solar panels on my Facebook page. Photovoltaic Cells (PV) are being used for shade in large parking lots, as roofs and external walls (seen above on the ECN building) and to construct entire buildings, like Taiwan’s stunningly beautiful Solar Stadium. In Europe, a solar tunnel now runs alongside the highway between Paris and Amsterdam, housing and powering the high speed train. Architects are now integrating PV into building design. Used as building materials, PV systems serve the dual purpose of providing cover and generating energy.

In an article in the ECN Efficiency and Infrastructure Newsletter, out of the Netherlands, principal Henk Kaan reports on a study done by 10 architects from around the world, part of a program from the International Energy Agency. They came up with a list of seven architectural criteria to determine if PVs are right for your project:

• Natural integration of solar panels
• Panels must fit in architecturally with the total building concept
• Good total composition of colours and materials
• Panels must be in harmony with the lines and pattern of the design
• They must fit in with the character of the building
• The PV system must be finely integrated with the other construction technology
• The PV system must stimulate innovative designs

Architects often think PVs are ugly or too expensive, but Kaan has a response for that criticism:

“Project developers use buildings as a way of earning money from their investment. The object must be reasonably neutral, both aesthetically and where price is concerned. This might lead you to think that solar panels are right out of the picture, but this is not the case. Solar panels can have a dual function, for example as a generator of electricity and as protection against the sun or covering for a facade. Per square metre of facade facing, a solar panel is cheaper than stone. So even office buildings can supply solar power.”

Personally, I think the PV cells are beautiful. Part of the reason I incorporated them into my Solar Bike Tree. If you’re an architect, and considering using PVs as building blocks, more power to you!

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