Search results for "solar panels"

Sunshine State

California could require all new homes to install solar panels
On Wednesday May 9, the California Energy Commission will vote on whether or not to require solar panels on new homes. The standard is expected to pass and would apply to all single and multi-family homes up to three stories tall as of January 2020. Exceptions will be made for shaded structures or in situations where it is impractical to install panels and offsets can be used for other solutions, such as re-charging batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall. Homes will not have to reach net-zero status (that is, relying completely on the solar panels for all energy), but is still expected to San Francisco already requires solar panels on all new buildings under 10 stories tall—statewide about 15 to 20 percent of new single family homes rely on solar energy. As California is the world’s fifth largest economy, the massive sales-boost that would result in this measure should not only lower the cost of solar panels in the state, but across the U.S. Installing solar panels will make it approximately $25,000 to $30,000 more expensive to build homes than those built under the 2006 code. However, homeowners are expected to save $50,000 to $60,000 over 25 years. While some have pointed out that this could make California’s housing shortage situation even more dire by raising housing costs, the energy–saving benefits (and California’s increasingly wealthy population) may outnumber the naysayers. This is the most recent of California’s sustainability measures as it continues to push toward a more environmentally friendly future, including filing a lawsuit against the EPA from lowering vehicle emission standards.

Energy Excellence

Solar panels get a much-needed design makeover
Let’s face it: no one has ever characterized a solar panel as being particularly attractive. In fact, they’re eyesores. While the environmental and business cases for photovoltaics are relatively easy to make, their aesthetic dimension has long been a losing proposition. “In states like California, solar is half the price of the local utility, even without subsidies,” explained Ido Salama, co-founder of Sistine Solar. “At the same time, it feels like all solar products look the same: they come in either black or blue, and, while solar panels work great, many people would describe them as ugly. At the very least, they look out of place on a roof,” he added. Rather than attempting to convince people to appreciate solar for what it is, Salama and company set out to build a solar panel that appeals to their sense of aesthetics instead. To that end, Sistine Solar introduced its SolarSkin technology—described on the company’s website as “solar with curb appeal”—in 2013 when its developers won the renewables track of the MIT Clean Energy Prize. Since launching SolarSkin, the company recently introduced its online Design Studio platform to allow anyone to design, customize, and price a solar installation.

How it works

Developed by MIT engineers, SolarSkin is a thin film specially coated with ultra-durable graphics and integrated onto high-efficiency solar panels. The technology employs selective light filtration to simultaneously display an image and transmit sunlight to the underlying solar cells with minimal loss in efficiency. The product is available in any number of colors and patterns, is compatible with every major panel manufacturer, and is available for both new and existing roofs. The end result is essentially a kind of camouflage for the typically drab photovoltaic panel. Sistine Solar’s new SolarSkin Design Studio is an online tool that allows architects, designers, and homeowners alike to design and order a customized solar system from a desktop computer or mobile phone. With a $99 refundable deposit, end users will receive a preliminary system design using LIDAR mapping, a detailed panel layout, guaranteed production figures, a realistic rendering, (where suitable image is available), and guaranteed delivery within 90 days. The Design Studio is intended to get customers more excited about solar, according to Salama. “Homeowners appreciate the transparency, customizability, and especially the ability to match their solar panels to their roof,” he said. “Architects and designers love it because for the first time, they have a product that allows them to showcase solar in a way never before possible—integrated, congruent, harmonious." In spite of the improvement to aesthetics, however, solar technology still faces a number of challenges in terms of market transformation. “Soft costs is one barrier,” he said. “Solar is so complex because every municipality has different rules when it comes to permitting solar.” Noting that it may take one to three days to physically install and wire up a solar system, Salama points out that it can take up to three months to get a permit. “If soft costs could be reduced—like streamlining the permitting process—we would see a radical transformation in adoption,” he suggested. Of course, affordable storage is an ongoing issue with solar technology. “When solar and storage become more economical than buying from the local utility, we will see a huge shift towards distributed generation and plenty of homeowners cutting the cord,” Salama predicted. Now that solar panels are eligible for a makeover, however, there’s one less hurdle to overcome—making the future of solar technology a little more attractive.  

Only In The U.K.

IKEA now sells solar panels and home battery packs

IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant known for selling cheap, do-it-yourself furniture, is now offering solar energy systems (only these products aren't quite cheap and definitely aren't D.I.Y.).

IKEA has partnered with energy technology company Solarcentury to launch its Solar Battery Storage Solution, which features solar panels and home batteries, in the U.K. Solarcentury, one of the U.K.’s biggest solar panel providers, will produce the panels.

IKEA’s home storage battery works in the same way as Tesla’s Powerwall, storing energy generated from the solar panels instead of selling excess energy back to the grid. The home batteries are compatible with existing solar panels or as a part of a combined storage system.

There is a bit of a sticker shock for those used to IKEA’s affordable prices—the upfront cost for both panels and battery is £6,925 (about $9,034 in U.S. dollars)—but the company estimates customers will make their money back within 12 years and their electricity bills will be cut by up to 70 percent. 

Solar panels and home battery systems have been making big waves thanks to Tesla's recently-announced offering. While still expensive, IKEA's solar system has an advantage in that its starting price is much lower. Just the batteries will cost £3,000 (around $3,900) as opposed to Tesla's price of £5,900 (about $7,684). However, location, type of building, and size of roof, also affect the final cost.

“We believe IKEA and Solarcentury are bringing the most competitive package to the market yet so more people than ever before can profit financially and environmentally by producing their own energy,” Susannah Wood, head of residential solar at Solarcentury, said in a press release.

This news comes on the heels of two big announcements for the U.K.’s energy industry. Just last week, the U.K. government unveiled a plan that will allot £246m of funding (that's around $320.48 million) for battery technology research. British gas owner Centrica also revealed that it would be increasing its energy prices 12.5 percent, despite promises to lower costs.

If you live in the U.K., IKEA’s website offers a free estimate on how much installing its Solar Battery Solution will save you.

Electric Aesthetic

Tesla reveals slender solar panels that appear to float on roofs
On Monday, Tesla became the most valuable car company in America. The day before, the Californian company headed by Elon Musk unveiled a new "streamline" solar panel to continue its foray into the green energy market. The slender panels are designed to be aesthetically innocuous and attract customers who would otherwise be put off by shingles or a large blue grid. To achieve the look, invisible mounting hardware and front array skirts allow the panels to appear to float upon the roof. “I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy," said Musk in Electrek. Japanese tech giant Panasonic will manufacture the panels at their "Gigafactory 2" in Buffalo, New York. As part of a deal with Tesla, Musk's firm will be the only company allowed to use and sell the panels produced there. Tesla and Panasonic have an already established business partnership after the two worked together to produce batteries for Tesla's electric cars. As for the panels, the well-disguised mounting system was originally developed by fellow Californian firm, Zep Solar. That company, however, was bought out by SolarCity who they themselves were purchased by Tesla. As reported by Techcrunch, Zep co-founder Daniel Flanigan has taken the role of Senior Director of Solar Systems Product Design in Tesla's engineering department. If you want an even more discreet solar panel, look, Tesla does that too. Solar panel shingles with textured glass span the whole roof, and like the new panels revealed last week, work with Tesla's Powerwall battery to power homes "with a completely sustainable energy system."

Facades+AM San Francisco

Colin Touhey of Pvilion on the future of facades and flexible solar panels
Colin Touhey is the founder of Pvilion, a New York-based company that designs and manufactures flexible photovoltaic (PV) solar structures and products. He is also wrapping up a fall semester fabrication studio at Columbia University GSAPP titled “Wired Skin.” Touhey will be presenting at the upcoming Facades+AM San Francisco conference on the concluding panel, titled Facades: The Next Generation. The Architect's Newspaper (AN): What’s your office like? Half of our office is a design office, and the other half is a workshop where we get our hands dirty. We are also building what we're designing. We're not a contractor, we're not an engineer, and we're not an architect—we're a little bit of all of those things. We come into a project as scrappy experts. We're talking about how to hoist up a building component early on in the design process. When we sign a contract with someone, we don't know how we're going to solve a problem, but we know that we will be able to figure out a solution. More conservative firms would say, ‘Oh we'll sell this when we know exactly how it's going to get done.’ If we knew exactly how to do a project before we started it, we wouldn't be in business. How does Pvilion balance futuristic tech with commercial work? We see what's 10-years out, and are working on that. But we also have [a] real product today. The two feed off each other. While we [have] a futuristic technology, we're not futurists. We're not sitting around speculating about what's going to happen in 50 years. What are some issues you are working through at Pvilion? We're trying to create building skins that both increase energy performance and reduce fossil fuel consumption. We're also providing a platform in which an architect can create. Rather than working with glass or steel, if you're wrapping a building in a flexible material, you can create interesting forms, and with those forms you can produce electricity. Also, we are thinking a lot about the installation process. Like Christmas lights, 30 to 50 solar panels can arrive on site folded up and pre-wired. When you're paying union labor to hang off the side of a facade with a tower crane, you want an efficient installation process. Due to the modularity of the system, you can replace components as needed without taking the entire system down. What’s next for facades? We're not only coming up with some rendering and saying, ‘Wouldn't this be the city of the future!?’ This is real now. We're not a research lab with kooky ideas about stuff that will never be built. We have real projects, we're really building things, and we have experience. Our work is UL certified, grid-tied, and warranty-able for 25 years. One of the really interesting things we're looking at now is dynamic facade elements. [With] these pieces, you have...south, east, and west facades [that] may all be moving throughout the course of the day, like a solar tracker. When you add the fourth dimension into a building, which is time, you end up with a moving system—your building is changing over the course of a day, and over the course of its lifetime. That's an entirely new concept that is really exciting for us. When your goal is to maximize energy production, dynamic facade elements are very intriguing. For example, consider a fabric membrane that's twisting over the course of the day, so it's opening up the facade when there isn't much light, and it's closing it up where there's more light, and it's simultaneously producing more energy. Can you give us a preview of what we can expect from your studio at Columbia? We are looking at the building facade as an opportunity to provide shade, increase building performance, and provide electricity. The idea of a wired skin—a living breathing organism—is electrical and mechanical and serves many purposes. The skin should protect you from the environment. It is a porous envelope, but also an enclosure. How do you balance the openness of the facade? Do you cut holes in it? Do you open it up? Do you fully enclose it? Do you create heat chimneys so that air flows between the glazing and your skin? Also, what are its thermal properties, and how can you take advantage of shading the building. Those are all the things we're exploring. Since we are not academic professors, we're grounding this course in reality—which is important to us. It's a fabrication studio class, so we're building facade elements. The deliverable at the end of the semester is to build a facade element that moves and works, and then provide a scale model of the building that has hundreds of facade elements on it. We're saying if you can't build it, you shouldn't be designing it.
Touhey takes the stage with Jason Kelly Johnson of Future Cities Lab and Sanjeev Tankha of Walter P. Moore to discuss the next generation of facades. Go to Facades+ AM San Francisco to learn more about the event and the other sessions taking place.

Light Advice

In San Francisco, new research suggests that density, not solar panels, is the surest path to a green city
Brad Plumer at Vox anaylzes the data to show that if, for example, the city of San Francisco built housing to accommodate 10,000 current Bay Area residents (i.e. those living in more wasteful, suburban environments), the city could save 79,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, three times the amount of CO2 that the solar panel legislation could save.
If this was applied to the U.S., Plumer reasons, the effect could be tremendous, although decreasing housing costs, along with increasing supply, would be the only way to ensure that green (or green-er) city living is available to a broad range of individuals.

French proposal to pave roads with solar panels could provide power for 5 million people
French authorities have announced that it plans to lay over 600 miles of solar roads within five years. Research from a five year study in collaboration with highway company COLAS indicates that the roads could provide power to up to 5 million people, or 8 percent of France's population. However, some claim that the French government is merely subsidising French companies and not following the best road for alternative energy solutions. Project "Wattway," as it is being called, was launched last October with the French Agency of Environment and Energy Management stating that just over 13 feet (4m) of solar road (215 square feet to be precise) could meet the energy demands (except heating) of one home. On that basis, 5,000 residents could draw on their energy supplies from as little as 0.62 miles of solar road. https://twitter.com/RoyalSegolene/status/693861761179611136?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Five years of research deduced that French roads are only occupied by vehicles "10 percent of the time" and that the solution could pave the way for solving future energy demands. Looking at the specs, the surface uses polycrystalline silicon cells, which are "encapsulated in a substrate," forming high yield solar panels. Only 0.28 inches (7mm) thin, the panels have an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio which allows them to deal with the weight of pretty much all motor-vehicles. For those thinking that driving on solar panels has the potential to be hazardous, fear not. Snowplow tests have been passed and the panels com equipped with all-weather skid-resistant coating. “These extremely fragile photovoltaic cells are coated in a multilayer substrate composed of resins and polymers, translucent enough to allow sunlight to pass through, and resistant enough to withstand truck traffic,” said COLAS. It's not just homes the roads could potentially power. Outlining the possibilities for "intelligent roads," COLAS said how they could be used for real time traffic management, self-driving cars, charging moving electric vehicles and eliminating black ice. What's more, COLAS said that the panels can be "directly applied to existing roads, highways, bike paths, parking areas, etc., without any civil engineering work." On top of that, the panels can last up to 20 years in areas that see infrequent traffic, meanwhile COLAS estimates the lifespan of the panels in regular traffic conditions to be 10 years. For example, if the quickest route from Caen in the North of France down to Marseille were to be covered, residents in both cities could be powered for 52 years if the panelled road lasted 10 years (and was removed afterwards). How Legitimate are COLAS's claims? France gets 1,600–2,000 sunlight hours per year. Taking the minimum of that, and subtracting 10 percent (road occupancy from vehicles) that leaves 1,440 sunlight hours per year. Interestingly, COLAS's claim of powering one home every 13 feet arose from the presumption of roads receiving only 1,000 sunlight hours per year, indicating that they are being extremely stringent with their study. Unsurprisingly, COLAS's panels have a lower percentage yield than current photovoltaic market solutions, offering 15 percent solar yields compared to 19 percent, but one can presume that this is a byproduct of making the panels roadworthy and their altered angle of incidence. This equates (by COLAS' calculations) to the panels costing $6.73 per Watt. However, according to Olivier Danielo of DDMagazine, this is "six times the cost "of large-scale photovoltaic cells." Danielo has reason to be skeptical. COLAS specialize in highway construction and by creating an "energy efficient" solution actually implement roads that have a shorter lifespan than regular roads, thereby giving themselves more work. Surely it would be far more efficient to equip houses who can utilize the optimum angle of incidence in conjunction with the most efficient photovoltaic (PV) technology? Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance ("Solar Insight Team") backs Danielo's claims up.  https://twitter.com/solar_chase/status/696658947252609024 Danielo and Chase aren't the only ones concerned, either. French engineer Nicolas Ott said that the energy payback from rooftop PV's is 7.5:1 compared to Wattway's 1.6:1. COLAS also claim to have "invented" the solar road when this is not the case. SolaRoad, a bike path in Krommanie in the Netherlands produced better than expected yields. However, when compared to three rooftop PV systems in the same area of the prototype road, data showed that rooftop PV's was double that of the SolaRoad per square meter over the same period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-ZSXB3KDF0 Nonetheless, installation of the French solar road panels is set to start soon with funding coming from raising taxes on fossil fuels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZNJhcNq9q4

French law mandates green roofs or solar panels on all new buildings in commercial zones
It’s serious crunch time in France for environmental policymaking as regulations tighten in deference to the 2020 goal of reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent. Paris is also scrambling for brownie points as it prepares to host the UN Conference on Climate Change this November. Lawmakers in France recently decreed that all rooftops of new commercial buildings must be covered in either plants or solar panels. Other major cities have gone to similarly stringent lengths, with the city of Toronto, Canada, mandating green roofs on all new buildings in 2009—whether residential, industrial or commercial. Expected foliage cover ranges from 20 to 60 percent depending on the size and type of building, with residential dwellings less than six stories high exempt from the mandate. Green roofs are an apt counterweight to the urban island phenomenon, in which urban zones are found to be several degrees hotter than surrounding rural areas because of their concrete density relative to moist, permeable land and vegetation. On the other hand, green roofs create an “isolating effect” that cools the building, reducing energy needs for heating and cooling in winter and summer, and retain rainwater to reduce excess runoff and flood likelihood. A green roof also bodes $200,000 in savings over its lifetime, according to researchers at Michigan State University. French environmental activists had initially lobbied for far less leniency, calling for every roof on every new building to be entirely covered by plants, without the option of installing solar panels instead. The Socialist government sought a middle-ground appeasement, convincing activists to limit the law to commercial buildings. France still lags behind other European countries in terms of solar deployment, installing just 613 megawatts of solar photovoltaics in 2013, falling behind countries that had installed at least 1 gigawatt in previous years, according to a 2014 report by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

San Francisco legislator proposes solar panels and green roofs for all new buildings
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, is proposing legislation to mandate that all new buildings in the city contain solar panels, rooftop gardens, or both. The resolution, called Solar Vision 2020, would form a permanent program (extending the work of the pilot GoSolarSF) to help building owners pay to install solar arrays, set a goal of doubling the city's solar energy production, and install 2 megawatts–worth of panels on residences citywide each year. “Many landlords have told me that if we just had the right financing mechanisms, they’d be interested in doing this,” he told the Chronicle. In addition to the local plans, a statewide bill called the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act—which would streamline the permitting processes around solar power and save customers up to $1,000 each—has passed the legislature and is now waiting for Governor Jerry Brown's signature. Meanwhile the California Solar Initiative and the Federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit both provide rebates to would-be solar energy installers. In Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power offers the Solar Incentive Program, which provides rebates on photovoltaic installations, and supports Go Solar LA, established to reduce customers’ cost of installing solar PV systems.

Mayor de Blasio announces $28 million plan to install solar panels on New York City schools
Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his plan to reduce New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over 2005 levels by 2050. Needless to say, that's a pretty ambitious target, but this mayor seems to like ambitious targets—his plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade comes to mind. But back to his latest plan, the climate plan. While this decades-long strategy will certainly evolve, it is focused around retrofitting the city’s building stock to reduce emissions. A key focus of these retrofits, at both city-owned and privately-owned buildings, will be installing solar panels. To kick-off that piece of the plan, the mayor is starting with schools. Speaking on Monday at the John F. Kennedy campus in the Bronx, where solar panels have been installed on nine schools, de Blasio announced that 24 additional schools would also be going solar. "These 24 projects we’re talking about today are part of a larger commitment," said the mayor. "They’re going to be an important part because they’re going to help lead the way in our efforts to use much more renewable energy in New York City." The mayor said that this investment would triple the amount of solar power collected on the roofs of city buildings. The city will cover $23 million of the $28 million investment, with the rest being covered by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Over the next decade, the mayor wants to install solar panels on over 300 city-owned buildings, which would generate about 100 megawatts of power, according to the administration.

Decathletes, Start Your Solar Panels
Yesterday was press day at the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The student teams were still scrambling to finish up their installations when Team Archpaper arrived on the scene, but we still managed to talk our way into a hand full of the 20 solar houses that will go head-to-head in open competition. As in past years, the students will be go about the work of every day living—doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking—and will be judged based upon the energy efficiency, as well as architecture, engineering, comfort, and marketability of their houses. While each of the entries evoked aspects of their respective regions, they fell to either side of a line that ran between off-the-shelf affordability and high-tech über-design. Rice University's Zerow House shot for bottom-budget affordability. The school has teamed with Project Row Houses, a non-profit that fixes up shotgun shacks in Houston, Texas' 3rd Ward. The Zerow House will wind up there after the decathlon, where it will become the home of a low-income family. The team used off-the-shelf furniture from Ikea and The Container Store and all of the construction materials were selected to be widely available and easy to install by contractors. The house offered a great deal of privacy on the interior as most of the envelope is solid corrugated iron, but a light well let in plenty of daylight. A 4.2 KW solar array on the roof was paired with a solar hot water array. Cornell University's Silo House went further than any entry in subverting the elongated box aesthetic. Three distinct circular volumes of CorTen corrugated steel (the silos) wrap a deck that maximizes livable space. This entry went took opposite rout of Rice's, as almost every aspect of the project, from the dish rack to the floating bed, was custom designed. The solar array, which shaded the house on a tube steel structure, is capable of generating 8 KW, more electricity that the house is expected to use. 2007 winners Team Germany (Technishe Universität Darmstadt) turned in what will probably be judged the most technically advanced project, which comes as no huge surprise. The team combined standard polycrystaline solar arrays on the roof with building-integrated thin film solar panels that make up the exterior walls. This glassy black box is interspersed by panels treated with acrylics to add a bit of color. All of the windows were either outfitted with integrated shading systems or exterior louvers. Inside, the house is a single voluminous room with a lofted sleeping area that covers the bathroom. Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) brings the outside in by breaking its volume into three boxes that wrap a central courtyard. In addition to the solar array, the roof captures rainwater, which feeds a garden and a pond. The decathlon also features entries from Iowa State University, Penn State University, Virginia Tech, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Team Boston (Boston Architecture College, Tufts University), Team Ontario/BC (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University), The Ohio State University, The University of Arizona, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, Team Missouri (Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri), and Team Alberta (University of Calgary, SAIT Polytechnic, Alberta College of Art + Design, Mount Royal College).

Desert Green

Mexico is building Latin America’s largest solar installation
While the current American government squanders time and opportunity in the pursuit of short-term profit by imposing disruptive tariffs and curtailing sustainability-focused goals, Mexico is powering ahead with a broad effort to generate up to 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2024.

As a part of that transformative effort—until recent years, Mexico’s energy industry operated as an oil-forward, state-run monopoly that was one of the world’s largest crude oil producers—Italian energy giant Enel is working on a 2,900-acre solar panel installation in the state of Coahuila that will generate enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes by year’s end.

The gigantic installation covers more area than 2,200 football fields and will yield the largest solar installation within Latin America and the largest outside of China and India, QCR reports. The installation will be made up of 2.3 million solar panels that are designed to move with the sun in order to generate the largest possible amount of renewable energy and will be joined in coming years by a slew of new solar installations. And while the American solar business has been booming in recent years, efforts by the Trump administration to knee-cap the country’s sustainable energy revolution with new tariffs have helped to ensure that the positive economic benefits of this energy transformation will be enjoyed by foreign firms. In Mexico’s case, it is European companies that will see the greatest reward: According to QCR, Spanish energy firm Iberdrola is building two solar parks in Mexico, with Holland’s Alten, Britain’s Atlas Renewable Energy, and Enel each working on additional installations of their own. Enel is working on a pair of wind farms in Mexico, as well. Despite Trump’s fossil fuel–oriented approach to energy policy, the American green energy movement continues to grow at a healthy clip. A recent report indicates that roughly 18% of America’s energy comes from renewable sources, a figure that is greatly surpassed in states like California, where officials recently moved to require solar panels on all new homes starting in 2020. The state recently hit its 2020 30 percent renewable energy goal two years early, and last year, the state’s California Independent System Operator, an outfit that tracks energy production, briefly reported that a whopping 67 percent of California’s energy came from renewable sources. To boot, a 2017 report from the United States Department of Energy found that the solar industry alone employed more American workers than all of the fossil fuel industries combined. For now, government-led energy reforms in Mexico are due to move ahead amid their own presidential transition while America continues to rely on the private sector for its energy transformation.