Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Solar panels are more than energy generation

Solar electric vehicle charging station at the OMSI in Portland, OR--shelter & power!
Electricity and thermal storage from the sun is pretty awesome, but solar panels can really offer so much more.  In certain parts of the world, covered outside areas are the norm to shelter people, animals, cars, or other equipment from the sun or rain.  Why not incorporate solar panels into the design to replace other building materials?  The structure is already budgeted and the incremental cost adder for the solar panels over the dumb panels would easily pay for itself from the locally generated clean energy.  As the weather continues to warm across the country and here in the Midwest, shading structures will continue to grow as a building design concept.  What a great way to add solar too! 

Chicago Botanical Garden Rice Center green roof with PV panels
Another example of the energy from solar panels being only one facet of its benefit to a building owner is with LEED projects.  Solar panels on a roof reduce the amount of roof space the project manager would need to dedicate to a green roof in order to achieve green roof credits.  Green roofs reduce water runoff, filter this runoff water, reduce building energy consumption, and the local heat island effect which effects the entire community.  Solar panels mixed with greenery are a win-win on all these accounts plus you get local energy production (EA credit 2) to boot.

Reducing expensive roofing materials with solar panels can pay for itself even before any energy generation 
One more example of solar being more than the sum of its energy production value is with slate and cedar roofs or other expensive roofing materials.  With these roof types, the installed cost per area of a roof integrated solar water heating collector could actually be less than the cost of the roofing material that is displaced--even before any energy savings are accrued.  I know that this is true for skylights with the daylighting and natural ventilation benefit being only a fraction of the total energy savings a building project with higher end roofing can see.

The more you look at solar, the more benefits you see, and the harder it becomes to justify sticking with old, polluting technologies.