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The Dawning of Solar Electric Architecture
By Simon Cope. 2001
The last two decades have brought significant changes to the design profession. In the wake of traumatic escalation in energy prices, shortages, embargoes and war along with heightened concerns over pollution, environmental degradation and resource depletion, awareness of the environmental impact of our work as design professionals has dramatically increased.
In the process, the shortcomings of yesterday's buildings have also become increasingly clear: Inefficient electrical and climate conditioning systems squander great amounts of energy. Combustion of fossil fuels on-site and at power plants adds green house gasses, acid rain and other pollutants to the environment. Inside, many building materials, furnishings and finishes give off toxic by-products contributing to indoor air pollution. Poorly designed lighting and ventilation systems can induce headaches and fatigue.
Architects with vision have come to understand it is no longer the goal of good design to simply create a building that's aesthetically pleasing - buildings of the future must be environmentally responsive as well. They have responded by specifying increased level of thermal insulation, healthier interiors and heat recovery ventilation systems. Significant advances have been made and this progress is a very important step in the right direction.
However it is not enough. For the developed countries to continue to enjoy the comforts of the late twentieth century and the developing world to ever hope to attain them, sustainability must become the cornerstone of our design philosophy. Rather than merely using less non-renewable fuels and creating less pollution, we come to design sustainable buildings that rely on renewable resources to produce some or all of their own energy and create no pollution.
One of the most promising renewable energy technologies is photovoltaics. Photovoltaics (PV) are truly elegant means of producing electricity on site, directly from the sun, without concern for energy supply or environmental harm. These solid-state devices simply make electricity out of sunlight, silently with no maintenance, no pollution and no depletion of materials. Photovoltaics (or solar electric modules/cells) are also exceedingly versatile - the same technology that can pump water, grind grain and provide communications and village electrification in the developing world, can produce electricity for the buildings and distribution grids of the industrialised countries.
There is growing consensus that distributed photovoltaic systems that provide electricity at the point of use will be the first to reach widespread commercialisation. Chief among these distributed applications is PV power systems for individual buildings. At this point, PV products will enable thousands of homeowners, property developers and owners to begin selling electricity to the National grid. Called distributed power, this allows PV buildings to use the National power grid like a giant storage battery. Buildings feed excess power to the grid during the day, helping the power companies to shave off the spikes in peak electrical demand. Then, when the sun goes down, these buildings draw electricity off the grid. It's a win-win situation: owners get paid for power they don't need, and power companies don't have to spend millions on new power plants to meet peak demand.
Simon Cope, who has been a visionary within the industry, believes that building-integrated PV's hold the promise to provide distributed electricity all across our country. "There are tens of thousands of square kilometres of unused building surfaces bathed in sunlight every day. It's going to waste. We will have cost effective photovoltaics," he says. "We're moving faster, on an accelerated curve, than we ever have before."
Interest in the building integration of PV, where the PV elements actually become an integral part of the building, often serving as the exterior weathering skin, is growing world-wide. PV specialists from some 15 countries are working within the International Energy Agency's Task 16 on a 5-year effort to optimise these systems and architects in Europe, Japan, US and New Zealand are now beginning to explore innovative ways of incorporating solar electricity into their building designs.
Worldwide, the first trend was for PV modules to be installed on top of existing roofs, supplying power to a battery bank in the basement of the building. Sophisticated electronic control equipment then converted this electricity into useable mains power for use by the building. (For example, in NZ, a 3 bedroom domestic house in Auckland with all modern appliances and fixtures. Stand-alone PV power system for over three years. Phone 021 968103 to view).
The next stage was to take these traditional, standard glass fronted PV modules and make roof tile shapes out of them. What makes this different is that the PV modules are the actual roof membrane itself. It was merely the second phase of a revolution. The biggest problem with these traditionally made PV's is: the cost of manufacture, the glass on the front of them, the inability to cope with heat (loss of output), and the shading problems that occur.
Phase Three - the final phase.
It took one of the worlds largest multi-national - Canon Inc. to come up with the answers to these problems.
Global high technology giant Canon Inc., along with their American joint-venture partner - UniSolar Inc. is set to dominate world production of PV's this year. The radical but highly efficient amorphous silicon solar cell technology is their key. The companies move to solar cell manufacture follows 19 years of research. It was further encouraged in 1993 when the Japanese Government introduced a subsidy scheme to promote the commercial installation of PV technology. The technology used by Canon is claimed to be the biggest breakthrough in recent solar cell research. Its manufacturing costs are 50% lower than conventional manufacture, and the Canon cells are more efficient energy generators.
Canon has taken this technology, and has started to develop a large range of end products:
Canon roof integrated solar modules are designed to look and function as attractive roofing components for the homes and buildings in which they are installed.
They are thin, flexible and light, adding no unnecessary weight or bulk to the roof structure. They are also laminated with advanced polymers, making them highly water-resistant, durable and resilient to high temperatures, and are manufactured with uniform dimensions for easy incorporation into construction plans.
For these reasons, the Canon roof-integrated solar modules cost less to install than other products and save users the double expense of installing roofing and solar modules separately.
Canon has come out with three roofing profiles to date:
These generate power cleanly and efficiently without affecting the aesthetic aspects of this roofing style, which is among the most popular metal roof style in the developed world. Canon produces the stepped roof modules in a variety of lengths to meet every roofing need.
These solar modules simulate batten seam metal roofing, emphasising dynamic vertical lines. The vertical edges of each solar module are bent upward, and the modules themselves are installed according to conventional methods, protecting the roof and removing the need for any other roofing materials.
Canon's flat roof solar modules are ideal for use with large facilities, where they can actually enhance roof appearance. Roof-integrated solar modules in this line are notable for their flat surfaces, with few protrusions. Canon produces them to dimensions specified by the customer.
These PV roofing tiles will be available in NZ in 2001. (Simon's Note: It is one of these roofing profiles that we have installed ~4kW's of (60 individual panels @ 64 watts per panel on the roof of our Meadowbank Solar Energy House in Auckland.)
For more details on this technology, or other associated products or services, we recommend you either come and visit the Solar Energy House in Meadowbank, Auckland by coming on an official tour of the premises, OR, click here to learn about the different suppliers in more depth who made this project happen. (Without the headaches normally associated with such a large project!)
Click on button to download Adobe PDF giving background on UniSolar & example installs around the world
Solar Energy House C/- Simon & Kristina Cope | 19 Manapau Street, Meadowbank, Auckland 1072 | New Zealand | Contact us now to arrange your tour