When a new high-rise office building is finished being built in Melbourne, Australia, next year, its facade will include 1,182 solar panels. Along with extra solar power on the roof, the building will be able to power itself completely.
The design will be the latest to use panels from a German company called Avancis, which makes each glass panel in the same thickness as an ordinary facade; thin film solar cells are built into each panel and it isn’t even apparent that the facades include solar at all. The panels come in a variety of colours, from a dark grey used on a municipal building in Amsterdam to a deep blue on a building in Berlin.
“The building is designed to be self-sustainable,” says Pete Kennon, the chief architect behind the design. “We can harness electricity on-site and use it immediately. This is very different to buildings that are offsetting their on-site power with remote solar or wind farms.” One of the advantages of harnessing solar power locally is that the energy doesn’t have to travel long distances, reducing the pressure on the grid.
Building materials like cement and steel, and the construction process, create a large amount of “embedded emissions” for any building. But as the new tower generates more renewable power than it needs - eliminating around 70 metric tons of CO2 emissions a year - the building can pay off its carbon debt and truly be carbon neutral, without offsets, in a few years.
This type of solar facade should be used on more buildings, argues Kennon. “It feels urgent to innovate our building technologies to more sustainable methods,” he says. “Collecting solar is a natural trajectory on our large-scale projects, particularly in locations that have great access to sunlight.”