By Robert Shaw, marketing director, SolarTech, Inc.
It’s no secret that solar panels have changed the way we gather and consume energy on a global scale. In attempt to move away from the environmentally-damaging impact of fossil fuels, governments and homeowners are encouraging architectural designers to look for renewable approaches to affordable energy – a challenge that solar power rises to meet.
There’s more to installing solar architecture into a landscape than simply strapping panels onto the top of a building. Architects are tasked with the challenge of crafting structures that are practical, efficient, and pleasing to the eye. They must use their expert skill to calculate maximum sun exposure, how a structure can distribute heat comfortably, and how to incorporate a solar system without sacrificing the aesthetics that are so important to any design.
So, how do the architects themselves feel about solar panels? Is the solar power trend delighting their design, or cramping their style?
An opportunity to shape the future
The question of whether architects appreciate solar panels has one simple answer: absolutely.
For architects involved in creating solar-powered buildings, it’s a chance to take part in the future of modern design. The San Francisco board of supervisors recently passed legislation identifying San Francisco as the first major city in the U.S. to mandate solar panels in all new commercial and residential buildings shorter than 10 stories – starting in 2017. If more cities follow suit in the pursuit of cleaner energy, it will push architects across the industry to embrace solar as a standard building tool.
With new legislations and future possibilities in mind, current architects have begun to think differently about the bulky, shiny, and unattractive panels familiar to most homeowners – finding new and creative ways to push the boundaries of what we know. In simple terms, solar power is giving architects the chance to stretch the limits of solar technology; and become a part of a new, golden age, in which some of the most spectacular structures in the world incorporate solar energy in creative ways.
The rise of sustainable architecture
While the concept of sustainable architecture has been around for quite some time, it’s only recently that solar architecture, specifically, has gained popularity. With a desire to be “the next big thing” in panel creativity, innovative architects throughout the world have begun to develop more impressive ways to make domestic and commercial solar solutions a reality. Just a few ways architects are now incorporating solar include:
Elon Musk recently announced that SolarCity would be producing a roof that banished the need for solar panel installation. By creating roofing that doesn’t look like traditional solar panels, the idea is that sustainable energy can be installed in a building without any impact on the existing design.
Windows have long been notorious as a weak link in energy efficiency for buildings – but architects and scientists have come together to create a solution that might make the windows themselves the solar panels collecting energy. Pythagoras solar recently developed a PVGU (Photovoltaic Glass Unit), a transparent solar panel that uses monocrystalline PV cells to generate power for the building. While plenty of extra light can still stream through the windows, the direct solar energy is collected in photovoltaic strips. The system is already in use in the Willis Tower of Chicago.
In an attempt to make solar more beautiful, the architects at Oxford Photovoltaics came up with a way to “print” colorful glass that generates electricity from the sun using a transparent layer of solar cells, no more than 3 microns thick. In the same vein, the University of Cambridge and University of Sheffield are working on developing a “spray-able” form of solar paint that can be applied to plastic surfaces.
Artichects designing the LA 28th Street Apartments have changed the way designers approach solar installation, by restoring an eighty-year-old structure with vertical PV panels. In an attempt to avoid over-crowding the historical beauty of the building’s roof, they used the exterior walls as prime real estate for collecting the sun’s power.
Are architects embracing solar panels themselves?
Ever since solar power emerged as a realistic opportunity for homeowners, the industry has experienced phenomenal growth – a change that both consumers and architectures love. Regardless of the changing legislation demanding PV panels in new structures, most architects would still embrace solar panels for their projects, designs, and even their own homes. Here’s why:
- People are instinctually drawn to nature. Despite our desire to embrace modern conveniences, our lives are undeniably intertwined with the natural world; sustainable architecture combines modern convenience with natural elements to develop the best possible quality of living. In a recent study, 99% of the architects surveyed by Sage believed that people are happier and more productive when exposed to natural light. Incorporating a love of nature into architectural design only makes sense for human contentment.
- Solar architecture creates better indoor environments. The natural power sources and materials used in sustainable architecture often reduce resource usage (lowering energy bills), improve indoor air quality, and make heating and cooling more effective. With materials free of harmful chemicals and clean energy sources, the resulting living conditions are extremely healthy.
- The potential is limitless. No matter the specific preferences of any given architect, sustainable homes that use modern solar solutions are turning properties into functional works of art. For architects that thrive on creativity, the possibilities for development, growth, and artistic expression are endless.
Solar powered homes and properties allow architects to make their mark in our society’s efforts to build a greener future – without compromise on appearance or quality. With seemingly endless advancements and innovations appearing, architects today have the support, the motivation, and the inspiration to create the environmentally-friendly havens of their dreams.
Robert Shaw is the Marketing Director for SolarTech, Inc. With over a decade of experience building and promoting sustainable businesses, he now specializes in residential and commercial solar business development in San Diego. Robert is an avid backpacker and outdoors enthusiast, and spends his free time educating adventurers on personal safety and environmentally responsible practices.