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Software design tool offers solar tech building integration

by Mark Cantrell
'Dragonscale' solar tiles installed at Google's Silicon Valley campus

Experts at an Australian university have developed software that is said to make it easier to incorporate solar energy technology into building designs.

Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, are building features such as roof tiles, cladding and windows that double as solar panels.

Depending on the property, these BIPVs can cover a greater area of a building, generating solar energy from different angles.

Despite the potential of BIPVs, conventional roof-mounted panels continue to account for the lion’s share of new installations in Australia due to the extra complexity in predicting performance and sourcing BIPV technology.

That’s where the software, developed by a team at RMIT University, comes in. It has been created helps architects and engineers incorporate, source and cost BIPV in a building’s conceptual design phase.

The software, funded by RMIT and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is the first of its kind to be designed using Australian data.

Project lead, associate professor Rebecca Yang from the Solar Energy Application Group, said she hoped the tool, called BIPV Enabler, would help make buildings greener.

“This is the perfect solution for building designers and developers looking to select the right solar option to suit their design,” said Yang, who is the director of the Australian PV Institute, and driving the BIPV Alliance.

“We’re making integrated-solar a more attractive option to developers, slicing the time it would normally take to research and implement incognito solar devices. 

“This isn’t just for new buildings either. Those looking to retrofit integrated solar into existing buildings will benefit too.”

The tool integrates product, regulation, technical, economic and construction data to create 3D models and detailed lifecycle simulations tailored to each building’s planned location.

For architects like Nic Bao, BIPV Enabler is set to help bridge the gap between BIPV technology and architectural design.

Bao, a lecturer in architecture, said having a tool to effortlessly incorporate factors such as climate, building code, and materials would make solar-savvy design easier.

“There are so many technical factors to consider when integrating BIPV into a design that it hadn’t been a popular choice, which was a missed opportunity,” he said.

The other challenge faced by designers and developers using integrated solar is choosing and sourcing materials.

BIPV Enabler is said to help with both, boasting Australia’s first photovoltaic product database where Australian suppliers can be easily identified.

Among the tool’s features are maps, a 3D shape library, solar visualisations, hourly weather data and pricing information for materials and feed-in tariffs.

Yang said BIPV Enabler also worked with computer-aided design programs, and could be scaled and customised to incorporate other open-source datasets to suit changing needs.

“We hope to see more buildings capable of generating solar electricity, while maintaining good design standards – a win for the planet and aesthetics,” Yang said.

Credit: Christopher Mcanneny/Heatherwick Studio

Read next: Bechtel to design and build Oriana solar farm

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