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RENEWABLE ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES FOR A CITY: SOLAR ENERGY

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Niyireth Torres's picture
urban Planner Renewable energy enthusiast

I help cities, towns, and communities achieve sustainable practices by providing strategic planning using my knowledge of green building practices, renewable energy, architecture, and the retail...

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  • Aug 5, 2021
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Solar energy is one of the most well-known types of renewable energy. The U.S. has rich solar resources, and the solar market, in the last decade, has grown an average of 42% each year. Since there is a growing market for solar energy, why not look at the opportunities to increase solar use in cities?

 

Uses

Solar energy is a renewable energy source that converts solar power, the energy from the sun, into thermal or electrical energy. It is harnessed into various uses, including generating electricity, light, a comfortable interior environment, and water heating for residential, commercial, or industrial use. There are three main ways to harness solar energy:

  • Photovoltaics: This is the electricity generated directly from sunlight through an electronic process that can power anything from small electronics (calculators and road signs) to homes and large commercial businesses.
  • Solar heating and cooling (SHC): This consists of using the heat generated by the sun and later used to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pool heating for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.
  • Concentrating solar power (CSP) uses curved mirrors to focus the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines to create energy. The concentrated thermal energy can be stored and used to produce electricity when needed by the CSP plant.

An advantage of solar energy is the flexibility of technology, being built as distributed generation (on location) or as a central station, a solar power plant similar to traditional plants. That can store excess energy produced using the latest solar and storage technologies and later distributed after the sunsets. 

 

Examples of solar energy: 

  • The Hanwa Group commissioned the transformation of the Hanwa Headquarters, located in the middle of Seoul, to generate its clean energy. The renovation consists of cladding the entire building with photovoltaic cells and an illuminated LED system to become an animated display at night. The project would be one of the world’s most enormous solar-powered facades. The tower’s tall façade would provide square footage to provide electricity to the building and be more self-sufficient than relying on the power grid.  
  • The OO Science Center in Austria, the Science Pyramid in Denver (Colorado, U.S.), the Nursery +e in Marburg (Germany), and the EWE & Bursagaz Headquarters in Bursa (Turkey) are a few examples of the building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs). It consists of solar panels incorporated into the building envelope. The shiny panels are a new design element that can be displayed thanks to the growing public interest in clean power and innovations in photovoltaic facades. 
  • The Walker is a walkable solar top module with integrated LED lighting from Energy Floors. This 24 x 24 in (60 x 60 cm) module uses its sensors to gather data throughout the day and light up after sunset. The Dutch neighborhood of Rotterdam Reyeroord, has a solar energy sidewalk that delivers power to a multifunctional light pole to be a visual landmark and a charging station for electric cars. It produces enough energy to charge 320’s cellphones in a year and for an electric vehicle to drive about 2,500 miles (4000 kilometers). 
  • Tesla’s Solar Roof is a fully integrated solar roof and storage system designed to complement a home’s residential aesthetic. Energy production can be monitored in real-time and controlled from an app on your mobile phone and has a compact home battery that stores the energy produced with the Solar Roof for later use.  

 

Opportunities 

When you think of solar energy, you imagine solar panels on a roof or in a solar energy farm. However, there are issues in the generation of sufficient energy in each case. Photovoltaic panels on the top of buildings rarely can generate enough power to meet demand. At the same time, solar energy farms require significant locations in open land with no shading obstructions.

Unfortunately, cities have many obstructions from the sun and don’t have many open lands to spare for solar production. But they do have excessive solar heating issues, that with the right technology, can be harvested into energy. In areas with less vegetation and more buildings and roads, cities often feel hotter than others with greenspace or vegetation. This phenomenon is an “urban heat island effect,” caused by dark-colored surfaces like roads and rooftops that absorb and hold heat from the sun, trapping and releasing the heat back into the air. The dark-colored surfaces increase the temperatures in the surrounding environment, creating tiny islands of heat, getting hotter throughout the day, becoming more pronounced after sunset when the stored heat starts to release at night.

So, the solutions in a city would have to be more innovative, such as using photovoltaic tiles for sidewalks, building-integrated photovoltaics in the façade of a building, or the use of transparent solar panels in windows. Harvesting solar energy from your home or office windows is the future of solar energy using transparent solar panels.  

Transparent solar panels can replace glass installations on high to mid-rise buildings to capture solar energy without affecting aesthetics or performance. A typical high-rise tower requires hundreds of thousands of square feet of glass, that would be hundreds of thousands of square feet of solar panels the generate energy for the building, getting closer to a net-zero building. The companies working on the advancement of transparent solar panels include:

  • Ubiquitous Energy: A Silicon Valley technology company, born from MIT and Michigan State University research, has developed a transparent solar coating that integrates into standard windows. The solar cells selectively transmit visible light while absorbing and converting ultraviolet and infrared light into electricity. 

 

  • ClearVue: The Australian company uses nano and microparticle technology. To internally diffuse, redistribute, and reflect elements of the incoming light towards the edges of the glass panel to be collected by monocrystalline silicon-based PV modules. Where the modules are placed into a circuit to optimize harvest energy rays from any direction. 

 

The marketing of solar energy is on its environmental impact but rarely dives into its long-term financial benefits. Financially, cities might have variables that cause the implementation of solar not as appealing, but working with the solar patterns of an area, investing in integrated photovoltaics becomes more viable. Reducing the energy consumption of a building while generating electricity is critical to consider when contemplating installing transparent solar panels. Facilities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions in utility bills each month (depending on the size of a building). Think of the amount of money saved with installing transparent solar panels to replace the glass. Temperature is regulated indoor and outdoor. There is the use of more natural light. The building has an independent source of energy and is not dependent on the electrical grid.

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