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31-03-2021 ©Photography by Bjørn Vijlbrief

The benefits of solar façades

Financial and practical advantages of building-integrated solar façades

Besides the positive environmental effects of using a renewable source like solar energy instead of fossil fuels and reducing land use to produce electricity, BIPV (Building-Integrated Photovoltaics) systems like solar façades are also economically beneficial.

The financial benefits of solar façades

The direct financial benefit of BIPV façades comes from the energy generation of the façade element in exchange for a passive façade element. Every building requires a façade, even if its sole function is to protect against the elements. A solar façade replaces conventional façade materials whilst providing the same protection with the added benefit of also producing clean energy. While a BIPV façade requires a larger initial investment, the added costs are returned through the production of energy. Over time, the total cost of ownership of a BIPV façade will be lower than many conventional façades systems and can even become a source of profit. Solar façades use many conventional mounting methods and materials, so, in essence, the only added costs are the solar cells and the installation costs, which are quickly earned back through the façade’s savings.

The cost of a BIPV façade installation almost always returns to the investor. In some cases, the owner can sell the electricity generated in excess by their grid-connected system back to the general grid according to equivalent feed-in-tariff values. In addition, several countries provide utility rate-based incentives that allow the PV system owners to recover their investment over time through a kW/h payment for sustainable energy generation.

In essence, the total cost of ownership of a solar façade decreases over time, eventually resulting in a negative cost and so a profit. Which other façade material can claim such an advantage?

The advantages of solar façades for cities

Next to the undeniable financial advantages of having a BIPV façade, there are also several practical benefits.

In densely inhabited cities, the building stock consumes more energy than in rural areas, but tall buildings do not have adequate roof space for rooftop solar power to fulfill their energy demand. High-rise buildings have relatively little roof space vs. their volume, and solar panels have to compete for space with an increasing number of other utilities, such as heating and cooling systems, energy-saving installations, and communal areas like rooftop gardens. Instead, the façade surface is relatively large, so PV panels integrated into the façade allow tall buildings to improve their energy efficiency, performing all the functions of traditional façade elements with the added benefit of generating energy.

It also makes sense to generate energy where it is needed most by integrating the PV system into buildings, rather than spending a lot of money and energy to bring buildings the energy they need if it is produced elsewhere. It is also easier to store the generated energy where it is going to be used, and storage systems are becoming increasingly popular in the PV and building sectors.

Moreover, BIPV façades provide a balanced and optimized daily energy production by spreading the solar panels across the East, South, and West façades, distributing the energy generation more in line with when it’s used. This distribution prevents surges in the electrical grid that will eventually have a negative impact on the financial incentives surrounding traditional south-facing installations. Moreover, this distribution can make energy storage more manageable and cheaper.

Furthermore, urban communities can benefit from more sustainable buildings thanks to their BIPV façades, resulting in a better public image for the whole city. A building that generates its own electricity while blending in with its environment not only visually attracts the inhabitants but also has a positive impact on the community, inspiring others to follow a sustainable path as well as fostering environmental, social, and economic development in urbanized areas.

The benefits of a solar façade for a building’s energy performance

Installing a BIPV façade improves a building’s energy performance immediately. In the EU, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) provide information on the energy efficiency of buildings and recommended improvements. The Dutch government determined that from 1 January 2023, all office buildings in the Netherlands measuring 100 m2 or more must have at least an energy label C.

A solar façade replaces a material that you need anyway, with the advantage of improving the energy label without a substantial extra cost; and it can look just as beautiful, if not more. Solar façades improve a building’s energy performance without changing its entire design, which makes them suitable for new builds and renovations.

Compared to a passive one, the added costs of an energy-generating façade are relatively small, and the return on that additional investment usually begins well within the guaranteed product lifespan. It’s an easy energy performance investment that immediately increases the property’s value.

Energy independence as financial benefit of solar façades

The indirect financial benefit of BIPV façades is the reduction of the operational costs for the building owner, who, by independently generating energy, is less reliant on other energy supplies and their fluctuating prices. Recent global events confirm the need to accelerate the ongoing economic transformation in the EU. The European Parliament recently reiterated its previous calls to significantly increase energy independence, reducing our overall dependence on fossil fuels, especially Russian gas, oil, and coal imports, by diversifying energy sources, increasing energy efficiency, and accelerating the transition to clean energy, in order to avoid the worsening of the energy crisis.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “It is time we tackle our vulnerabilities and rapidly become more independent in our energy choices. Let’s dash into renewable energy at lightning speed. Renewables are a cheap, clean, and potentially endless energy source, and instead of funding the fossil fuel industry elsewhere, they create jobs here. Putin’s war in Ukraine demonstrates the urgency of accelerating our clean energy transition.”

Additional benefits of specific solar façade applications

BIPV modules can be implemented on a façade as curtain wall, glazing, and external shading devices. Depending on the application, the design benefits of solar façade elements can slightly change, but one fundamental advantage remains the same; producing electricity while acting as a façade element.

Pharos building in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands

The design benefits of a BIPV façade element, when used as cladding or curtain wall system, is that it can perform all the same roles as a curtain wall or ventilated façade, sometimes better, and in addition, it generates energy. Curtain walls façades provide extra climate protection, reducing the energy consumption for heating and cooling, and noise protection that can reach up to 25 dB of sound damping.

Klockstapeln building in Gävle, Sweden

In cases of BIPV elements used as solar glazing and windows, safety glass adds additional protection to the windows. Moreover, the elements can be translucent and integrated as a sun filter while generating electricity. IGUs (Insulated Glass Units) can also be integrated into the solar modules to sustain thermal insulation and energy generation as multifunctional windows. The design-related benefit is there when the solar glazing is used with semi-transparent colored front glass, and different inclinations of the elements give a dynamic look to the building.

Kuijpers Installatie building in Helmond, the Netherlands

PV elements used as canopies and sun shading panels as an external attachment to the façades are 2-in-1 solutions for creating shade and generating energy while allowing architecture to create a new visual aesthetic and keep the mechanical load of the PV system installation off of the main building. In addition, more advanced designs of shading PV elements can rotate throughout the day to capture the sun at an optimized angle to produce even more energy. These types of BIPV elements also maximize energy gain by minimizing the installation area on the façade.

The importance of aesthetics: custom-made colored solar façades

No one wants a building that is an eyesore, and façades are crucial in defining a building’s aesthetics. Having colored solar panels installed in a building’s façade ensures an energy-generating system that is also pleasing to the eye. While traditional rack-mounted solar panels would disrupt the intended look of the building, design BIPV façades don’t sacrifice the building’s appearance, allowing for more widespread solar energy production in the long run.

A solar façade should not come at the cost of an architect’s freedom of design. Customizing size is key to maintaining the integrity of a building’s shape and geometry and also enables a full finishing. Colored photovoltaics appear as conventional façade elements and do not need to look like technical, standard solar panels. A proper solar façade should not be recognized unless that is its purpose.

At Kameleon Solar, we offer endless design possibilities with our custom-made colored solar panels for beautiful solar façades. We can make it possible for the solar elements to blend in with the façade so well that it is invisible that there are solar panels on it. Our colored BIPV is sustainable and aesthetically satisfying; we want to make people ready for the energy transition by making solar design beautiful. We create the art of solar.

Having a design BIPV façade is a double investment from which you can benefit immediately in terms of aesthetics and energy efficiency. As a result, the building will significantly increase its urban, architectural, and economic value.

Kameleon Solar is ready to be a key player in a beautiful, sustainable revolution of urban buildings.

Ticon Eiendom building in Drammen, Norway

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