Facade-Mounted Solar System Offers More than Electricity

Researchers in Syracuse, New York are testing a new type of concentrating photovoltaic solar system that hangs on the side of a building and offers benefits that go beyond electricity generation.

The Integrated Concentrating (IC) Solar Facade System is part of a new building at Rensselaer Polytenchic Institutes’s Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE).

It is a building integrated photovoltaic system that takes a dramatically different approach than existing building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) or concentrating PV technologies to provide electrical power, thermal energy, enhanced daylighting and reduced solar gain (i.e. shade).

The systems (for both retrofit applications and new construction) could be architecturally integrated into the facades of buildings while still providing maximum outside views and diffuse daylight for the building users. The concentrating lenses are inverted pyramids about a foot wide at the bottom and they move to track the sun.

The IC Solar System produces electricity with a PV cell, captures much of the remaining solar energy as heat for domestic hot water, space heating (or, possibly, for distributed absorption refrigeration cooling), reduces solar gain by the building, and enhances interior daylighting quality, thus reducing overuse of artificial lighting.

The design and operation of the system permits direct partial views of the outside by the building’s inhabitants. The modular design can be attached to a range of existing building structures or implemented into new designs. The tracking IC Solar Module System already has been demonstrated in several ‘proof of concept’ lab-scale prototypes, but this is the first building deployment–a section of lenses roughly 8 feet by 8 feet.

The technical challenges of the IC Solar System are to produce a low-cost shading system for windows that:

  1. uses as much of incoming direct normal irradiation as possible in the production of electricity
  2. allows as much diffuse incident irradiation as possible to enter occupied spaces for day-lighting
  3. requires little maintenance
  4. captures, as thermal power, that which is not directly converted to electric power via the PV cell, thereby lowering building cooling loads
  5. is aesthetically attractive for architectural markets

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