From New Buildings to Retrofit Projects: Solar Facade Systems for a Circular and Low-Carbon Architecture
The sun’s influence on human life encompasses multiple dimensions, from biological and developmental aspects to religious-mythological connotations in civilizations such as the Egyptians and Romans. Moreover, this influence extends to its use as a natural resource within the realm of science. In scientific pursuits, the continuous search to harness the sun as an energy source has been a constant throughout the years. Within this context, the discovery of the photovoltaic effect and its application have paved the way in the history of solar panels, starting from the first observations of Becquerel to the initial prototypes of Charles Fritts in the 19th century.
Nowadays, the energy obtained from the sun through devices such as solar panels has become one of the most widely used sources in regions like North America and Europe, contributing to the efforts for a complete transition to clean energy. The momentum in this transition has motivated the development of new technologies, such as SolarLab facade systems, that challenge the preconceived idea of what a solar panel looks like and where it can be installed. These systems converge with architecture to integrate them as aesthetic elements, serving as cladding for both retrofit projects and new buildings.
In contrast to solar panels —which have proven their efficiency without compromising aesthetics— Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) facade systems are a new alternative to traditional cladding materials. They offer a high degree of design flexibility, providing a wide variety of customizable options in terms of color, finish, texture, shapes, and sizes. Additionally, they are presented as a sustainable and recyclable (up to 96%) European-made option, using between 30% and 80% recycled resources and harnessing sustainable energy from wind, water, and the sun for their manufacture.
The system is seamlessly integrated for on-site electricity production with aesthetic flexibility through three types of installation systems. The rain screen protects the structure, enhancing durability and reducing operating costs. Simultaneously, the curtain wall system replaces panels and glazing on the facade while generating electricity. Finally, louvers —also known as brise-soleil— are installed on the facade, offering an effective solution for controlling solar radiation and creating light and shade effects. The versatility of each of these systems makes them suitable for both new construction and retrofits, with low carbon emissions.
Enhancing Outcomes in New Builds and Retrofit Projects
To achieve carbon neutrality, architects and stakeholders must broaden their focus, not only by minimizing operational consumption but also by amortizing the environmental investment in materials and construction. In this collaborative process, SolarLab contributes by providing design support and free CAD and BIM tools, making it easier for designers to make decisions when incorporating BIPV facades into the design.
In this context, solar facade systems add a new dimension. At Powerhouse Telemark, designed by Snøhetta, for example; the system generates enough electricity to offset the embodied energy and operational consumption for years to come. In this project, custom-designed and fabricated black ventilated and lightweight cladding panels were used. The solar facade, featuring a glass finish and invisible high-efficiency photovoltaic cells, seamlessly integrates with the prismatic shape of the new building.
By working closely with architects, engineers, and contractors, we ensure that the solar facade maintains the original architectural vision while providing a durable and sustainable solution. -SolarLab
In addition, as an alternative to new construction, retrofit projects like Trifolium are gaining relevance in a more sustainable future. They are becoming increasingly common and driving proposals that not only optimize resources but also present a relevant aesthetic. BIPV facade solutions offer a significant opportunity in these projects to reduce CO₂ emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.
With 85% to 95% of the European building stock still expected to be in use by 2050, it is imperative to address retrofitting with a sustainable approach. For that reason, solar facade systems offer promising scope for action in the green transition, given that buildings account for a high percentage of global energy consumption.
By adopting new approaches to harnessing renewable resources, we are witnessing a significant paradigm shift in building conception and design. This change redefines how the elements that make up a building are perceived, overcoming the traditional dichotomy between aesthetics and functionality. This is where Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) facade systems emerge as an option to achieve a sustainable built environment.
To learn more about SolarLab and its solutions, visit their website or refer to the product catalog.