How clever solar architecture could boost our renewable energy usage
2019 was one of the best years for the solar (PV) industry. Thanks to the decreasing cost of solar panels, they are becoming more accessible and widespread.
Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, experts even said that this could be boosting the demand for solar installations, especially for rooftop systems. People’s energy expenditure is rising when they are working from home and they are looking for ways to save money in the long run.
The European target for renewable energy use was 20% in 2020. While we’re on track to achieve this, innovations still need to happen in all areas of renewable energy. Only 6% of the total share in renewable energy consumption is solar energy. Yet the sun is one of the most reliable sources of energy.
To increase this share, solar energy needs to become more efficient, cheaper to install and become easily embeddable in modern architecture.
Some cities are already leading by example. Freiburg in Germany is referred to as the ‘solar city’ in Europe. The city was once home of the Solar Summit (2013) which brought together scientists, investors, and solar experts. Since then Freiburg has installed more solar photovoltaic systems than any other city or region on the continent. And while Freiburg is considered one of the sunniest regions in Europe, it still receives less sun than other countries that have made little effort with their advancements in solar energy (like New Zealand for example).
Talking about New Zealand: in the neighboring country Australia, a physics professor, and his team recently developed a new model of solar panels. They are wafer-thin, lightweight, and can be stuck to any surface. This solar technology is a few years away from commercialisation, and could be the breakthrough that could change the game for solar energy.
“Imagine a world where everyone has access to electricity, and where every surface can generate clean, low cost, sustainable energy from the sun,” Professor Dastoor said (Sydney Morning Herald, 2020).
Such developments would also be a huge help for architects, who are coming up with increasingly creative ways to develop sustainable buildings. Solar energy can play an important part in this. Around the world, architects have turned buildings into functional works of art. These buildings include things like solar roofs, windows, and even walls.
“Solar design is reshaping cities and architecture around the world and is a way to begin addressing the global climate crisis and greenhouse gas emissions.” (Eric Baldwin for ArchDaily)
We found examples of incredible solar architecture that inspired us and does not sacrifice the aesthetics of the building. These examples show that solar architecture can be used across a diverse range of environments, and even temperatures.
Solar architecture in the mountains
Both buildings are located in the Swiss mountains and provide a shining example that solar panels don’t have to be in warm or extremely sunny areas. When the panels are strategically placed, and in a location with minimal cloud cover, they still generate enough energy that can last all year, even in winter.
Solar architecture at the beach
Sustainability is at the core of the St Andrews Beach House. This beautiful robust house is located on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia. ‘Passive solar principals are maximised by the design’ according to the architects. The roof is covered by solar panels with micro-inverters, providing the house with electricity.
Solar energy in the city
As mentioned before, Freiburg is considered the solar city of Europe. The solar settlement was designed by architect Rolf Disch. It consists of 59 residential buildings, nine penthouses, and the commercial ‘Sun Ship’ building. All buildings have a large roof of photovoltaic modules and were built with sustainable wood. The settlement is proof that the installation of solar panels is possible on a larger scale and in a city.
Architecture combined with clever and functional solar design could be the catalyst for further growth in the solar industry. Location independence is solar energy’s strength, and therefore we, as individuals can consider incorporating this type of renewable energy in our own homes.
Embracing sustainable ways of building and generating electricity, will get us closer to achieving the goal of 32% renewable energy usage across Europe by 2030.
by Katharina Alf