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.


  1. I agree. While initial installation may be expensive, the return of said investment will be prominent when you have reduced or zero electricity bills to pay; and as mentioned in the article, the area that you will dedicate for solar roofing is a space where you don’t have to pay for expensive roofing materials.

    Cody Charlebois

  2. A lot of families are converting to solar, simply to maintain simple functions at home like lighting and heating, plus other functions that doesn’t consume a lot of electricity. While it may not be much individually, it really stacks up after a while. Plus, you’re sure to have lights and basic functions when there’s a power outage in your area, courtesy of your own power source.

    Keaton Oakes

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  4. Roofing manufacturers are taking solar roofing to the next step with solar panels that resemble classic shingles so that they can blend with the rest of the roof, and no one will know better. Regardless, there are ways to conceal the classic panels on your roof, like installing it on the part of the roof that’s not visible to most people, as long as it doesn’t interfere with gathering the needed energy from the sun. – Soo

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