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Solar gains

technical & practice

RMJM's Zuckermann Institute for Connective Environmental Research (ZICER) building in Norwich has just been completed - part of the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Not only is it one of the first buildings in the UK to integrate photovoltaics (PV) into a naturally conditioned auditorium space but it is also one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Europe, incorporating high thermal-mass Termodeck concrete slabs for heating and cooling, with triple-glazed windows and insulation rates far in excess of current UK standards.

Energy consumption is less than 100kWh/year/m 2, equivalent to burning annually 40kg of coal for every sq metre. Construction materials include recycled aggregates and timber from managed sources. CO 2emissions are 70 per cent lower than mid-1990s best-practice buildings, and the carbon index is in excess of 10.0.

In short, if you are looking for interesting sustainable solutions, the ZICER building is as good a place as any to start. The top floor area of the ZICER building, for example, is constructed with a lightweight steel structure clad with monocrystalline and polycrystalline double-glazed solar electricity PowerGlaz panels.

The electrical connections of PowerGlaz (generally two wires) can be integrated into most standard glass support framework systems and become more visible from within the building. PowerGlaz laminates can be manufactured to any size up to 3.3m x 2.2m and their structural properties are identical to a similar-sized piece of laminate glass.

David Howey of Whitbybird, which engineered the ZICER project, considers that having a range of options in terms of standard building materials and building envelope systems will greatly increase solar's future potential. 'If we are going to use integrated PV in a structure, we would obviously prefer PV modules that are made to meet our design needs, we need greater flexibility in product availability at a cost that is acceptable, ' he says. 'Used creatively in newly available integrated framing systems, standard PV modules provide good design and important environmental benefits without incurring the unnecessary costs of bespoke manufacture.'

PowerGlaz is actually produced by laminating solar cells, with their electrical interconnection between two layers of glass. To match the requirements of modern energy-efficient buildings the laminates can be supplied as double-glazed units, using Low E glass or argon fill to improve thermal performance. The type and number of cells selected determines the power output of the glass laminate.

The PV cells stop all light transmission in their generation of electricity by varying the space between the cells so it is possible to control the amount of electricity the building will generate and the amount of ambient light entering the building. The PV cells also stop the heat spectrum of light passing into the building thereby reducing a building's cooling loads.

Laminated roof tiles Adding to the growing number of real building products that double as solar electricity modules, roofing materials manufacturer Marley recently launched its SolarTile - a roofing product that also incorporates solar cells which can be wired directly into the house wiring.Used as a modular replacement for conventional roofing tiles, it has a solar laminate comprising ten Solar Saturn cells generating an output of 23Wp and is designed for use with the Marley Modern interlocking tile.

To support the integration of solar as a standard building product, BP Solar and Sch³co International have been working together to develop solar-powered components for the whole building envelope system. The use of solar units in curtain walling and facades, for example, offers a broad spectrum of new technical and design possibilities. Solar units are an integral part of the new solar facade with thermal insulation and solar gains combined in an intelligent solution.

Major award-winning designs, such as Kohn Pedersen Fox's proposed New York Jets Stadium next to the Hudson River, incorporate a number of ambitious environmental attributes such as vertical wind turbines and 10,000m 2of solar cells built into the fabric of the building. There is an explosion in construction and quality architecture in China, which is also in on the act with an award-winning project for the proposed £50million Jie Fang Daily News building in Shanghai, designed by San Francisco-based KMD. It combines a number of solar strategies including a magnificent edge atrium, in-atrium balcony and sunshades incorporating solar cells. Its lead designer, L T Chen, says that 'our design uses the most innovative use of green and sustainable architecture [with] wireless fidelity technology'.

Chris Wilkinson ofWilkinson Eyre Architects, who has done considerable personal research into the various solar product technologies available, including visiting manufacturing plants in the US, concludes that solar is a viable building product. He says:

'Solar is the most practical way to integrate a renewable energy system into a building and the power- generating efficiency of solar PV is getting better all the time. I'm very interested in incorporating PV into building design, either in curtain walling, windows, or in flexible structures such as ETFE fabric. I also like the idea that it can be used as a shading device.'

And in terms of the economic viability of a solar installation, he believes that the UK needs to learn from Europe and the US, where tax incentives for both personal and corporate renewable energy systems encourage wider use and where surplus electricity fed into the grid is more adequately rewarded. 'To help to offset some of the costs, a system of tax benefits would greatly help to increase its use in more buildings and homes.'

Ray Noble is project manager at BP Solar. Tel 01932 779543

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