Solar panels designed with attractive patterns to win over Nimbys who don’t like industrial look, and 5 installations, from Singapore to Dubai, that showcase elegance
- Designers are creating solar installations covered with striking patterns or that blend subtly with existing architecture to mollify critics of the arrays’ look
- Though equipment modified to look more appealing produces less electricity, the products are likely to be adopted in higher volumes and so will be beneficial
Plans to add tens of millions of solar panels across the rooftops of the world face a common challenge – opposition from residents who view the modules as an eyesore.
That’s why designers including Netherlands-based Kiki van Eijk are focused on delivering energy arrays emblazoned with striking patterns, or equipment that blends subtly with existing nature or architecture, in an attempt to win over critics who worry that adopting clean energy means souring the appeal of their neighbourhood.
“Solar panels don’t need to look industrial and clean,” said van Eijk, whose designs with partner Joost van Bleiswijk for solar roof tiles and facade modules feature imagery of sunset tones, raindrops, brushstrokes and leaves. “They have a soul.”
Initial small-scale samples are currently being installed in homes in the Netherlands, with larger deployments planned for 2023.
Public opposition to conventional rectangular and black arrays is becoming a more serious risk to efforts to accelerate adoption of zero-emission electricity generation, particularly as policymakers consider mandating the installation of solar panels in homes and industrial facilities.
Total global solar installations are likely to rise about 30 per cent this year compared to 2021, BloombergNEF analysts said in a May report.
In August 2021, California regulators approved plans to expand solar panel requirements to cover apartments and commercial buildings. Japan is considering solar policies for new public buildings, while China expects to accelerate additions of rooftop panels after adding a record volume in 2021.
Focusing on aesthetics does come at a cost to efficiency. Compared to conventional panels, van Eijk’s designs deliver around 10 per cent less power because the solar cells are concealed beneath a printed pattern.
Other alternatives such as transparent photovoltaic glass can have higher losses, and in some cases provide only 60 per cent of the capacity of similar-sized traditional equipment.
Though equipment modified to look more appealing produces less electricity, the products are likely to be adopted in higher volumes, and over larger surface areas – potentially wrapped around buildings, or across the lengths of roofs.
Here are five examples of global projects that have already attempted to combine solar installations with elegant design.
Guoco Tower, Singapore
Solar panels on Guoco Tower in Singapore aren’t camouflaged, but you wouldn’t notice them even if you searched.
Photovoltaic glass literally forms the 3,000-square-metre roof of the ground-floor pavilion, filling the space where people do yoga and shop at outdoor markets with soft natural light. The canopy transforms sunlight into about 2 per cent of the development’s annual energy needs.
Hanwha Headquarters, Seoul
Hanwha, a major producer of solar equipment, remodelled its Seoul headquarters to intersperse panels between existing windows on the building’s facade.
The panels, known as building-integrated photovoltaics, sit at an angle to optimise sunlight absorption, according to Ben van Berkel, principal architect at UNStudio, which carried out the work.
The 884 panels generate about 300 kilowatts of electricity a day, lowering the site’s power costs, while other aspects of the redesign that maximise natural light and heat have helped lower energy consumption by about 40 per cent.
FTX Arena, Miami
The home arena of the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat is another venue that discreetly includes solar technology to help account for a proportion of its energy consumption.
A pavilion that officially opened in 2016 includes circular skylights featuring about 300 crystalline silicon photovoltaic glass units. The modules allow the stadium to generate about 34,500 kilowatt-hours a year.
Dubai Frame, Dubai
The Dubai Frame, a rectangular skyscraper that opened in the city’s Zabeel Park in 2018, features semi-transparent, gold-coloured photovoltaic glass installed on its rain-screen cladding.
The panes, which cover about 1,200 square metres, help account for “a large quantity” of energy demand in the 48-floor-high structure, according to Onyx Solar, which worked on the project.
Hapcheon, South Korea
Away from cityscapes, residents in Hapcheon in South Korea requested that a floating solar plant on a reservoir have its more than 92,000 panels arranged into the shape of plum blossoms.
The site features 17 giant flowers along the 12-mile stretch of water. Floating projects are particularly important in dense nations with little available land for renewables.