- Swiss ‘proof of concept’
Electric Walls – NOT roof
Three Swiss Universities, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Fribourg School of Engineering and Architecture, and the Geneva School of Art and Design, have joined with private firms and Swiss government agencies to prove that a house can use solar panels on its façade, rather than its roof, to generate more energy than it needs.
Student housing, Swiss style (EPFL)
Overcoming Conventional Weakness
Conventional solar power panels (PV’s) are connected in series. This limits the output of every panel to that of the worst performer. Now Swiss research students have developed the idea of Peter Cuony, from Swiss clean tech company Groupe E Connect, of fitting ‘power optimisers’ to each panel. These continuously measures and adjust each panel’s performance, improving the output of each panel and so overcome this problem.
Instantaneous Maximum Power
The solar panel project is being led by Victor Saadé, a student of electrical engineering at EPFL. He explains that the power optimiser avoids the conventional problem by “drawing on the instantaneous maximum power generation of each panel, regardless of how much sunlight they do – or don’t – receive”.
More Energy + ‘Green’ Roofs
The team says this allows their “NeighborHub” house to supply its own energy needs even though the façade panels typically receive less sunlight than a roof panel. The house will generate more energy than it typically uses, leaving the roof free for growing plants and encouraging biodiversity. They will enter the house in the 2017 Solar Decathlon competition in Denver in October.
Panels on Building Facade
Trees, ‘Solar’, and Landscaping
Promoters of the environmental benefits of solar power often posit that installing PV’s can be equated with planting trees. However, solar power and trees don’t always get along. Branches and leaves can block sunlight and reduce electricity output potential. This is more likely to be the case with ‘solar walls’, unless very careful thought is given to landscaping the adjacent gardens. The net benefits of removing, or properly planting trees to install solar can be significant.
Design Matters Even More
Trees are wonderful. Their use in, and benefits for, creating low energy buildings is considerable. Planting, caring for, and harvesting from and of them is clearly becoming an extension of conventional architectural design. Both architect and landscape architect increasingly need to jointly consider each and every development, both for beauty, harmony, and the creation of a healthy environment.