Thursday, 14 February 2013

Yes, Virginia, photovoltaics do work

One of the headline snippets in today's in inhabitat news blog is that world installed solar photovoltaic generating capacity has surpassed 100 gigawatts.  Good news enough in its own right. Read about it here.

But for me, as an architect committed to buildings that gobble up less of that generated energy – or better still give back as much as they take – these big news always concentrate too much on the big items like fields of solar collectors working as centralised generators.

I personally think the real future is in building integrated photovoltaics, and the distributed generation which they make possible.  Quite frankly, I think that a building with good integrated photovoltaics is just much more sexy than a great big field of concentrating collectors.

Nevertheless, the central issue is how do all those dispersed BIPV integrate with the large-scale energy grid.  So I thought it was a good excuse to point interested readers at a surprisingly readable source of information, on how much progress has been made in the world's most committed and advanced market.

The European Photovoltaics Industry Association has put out a short version of 'Connecting the Sun'.  It is, as I say, a surprisingly readable report on the stuff that a normal architect, or possibly even a normal building engineer may dismiss as all too hard, all too big, and altogether too much somebody else's business.  This report is not specifically about buildings.  But if you want to bolster your faith in making the effort to integrate photovoltaics into a building that you design, it's well worth the added distraction to at least skim the eighteen pages or so.

Why the odd headline to this post?  Well, I live in hope that all those climate change skeptics try reading this little report, too.  At least then they would confine themselves to just arguing about the evidence of global warming, but would stop knocking the development of sustainable energy sources.  They are good for the planet, and good for us, regardless.

Download the short version of the report here.

1 comment:

Jesiah Davis said...

If the provision of 100% of our energy requirement is to be renewable, it is going to have come from multiple sources in order to overcome the intermittent nature of the leading technologies.
Interestingly, a report1 on 100% renewable energy modeling by Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in 2013 explores the outcomes of several scenarios of providing the entirety of the Australia's energy needs with renewable sources. Some of the key findings of the report:
Renewable energy sources indicated as being more reliable providers of energy across the grid (as a virtue of their decentralized locations) than the centralized fossil fuel powered generation.
An increasing efficiency as a result of diminished line loss resistance incurred by the need to send the energy across the often vast distances between the relatively remote generation facility and the consumer.
Comparable, if not cheaper cost per watt installed than fossil fuel burning generators in a carbon constrained economy.(this also assumes that it is also a level playing field, and that the fossil fuels industry is not in receipt of massively disproportionate subsidisation.)
The AEMO report found that the key to making renewable energy work for provision of our total energy requirement, was in the diversity of sources. The findings AEMO report are also subsequently now independently supported by the work of Mark Diesendorf and Ben Elliston at UNSW on the the same topic of providing Australia's energy needs with 100% renewable energy.2

For architects concerned with minimising the ecological impact of the structures they design, it should be a priority to integrate a mixture of energy provision (and saving) measures from the design phase with the same depth of thought as one would hope to achieve with aesthetic considerations. BIPV will no doubt share a large part of that mixture in the future as it becomes more feasible to integrate Photo-voltaic materials into more of the building's surfaces that are exposed to enough solar radiation to make a viable return on investment from the endeavour. This may lead to outcomes that may call for solutions other than BIPV, but it is likely that a large proportion of buildings will use BIPV extensively to satisfy the energy requirements.
Ultimately though, I think the design of a building still needs to be determined by the site and the opportunities/limitations that are present on that site and that any particular technology chosen for the generation of the buildings energy requirement will be decided based on evidence.