Although the sun is a reliable energy source, photovoltaics cover only one percent of energy consumption in Switzerland at present. While Alpine regions in particular have many sunny days throughout the year, solar panels on rooftops remain covered in snow for months in winter and are thus unable to convert the sunlight into energy. Installing the panels on the east or west facades of buildings would solve this problem. However, as the shimmering blue-black panels rarely blend in with the look of buildings and their surroundings, many architects don’t even consider this renewable energy source in their initial blueprints.
Dispelling aesthetic reservations
«We have to find a better way to exploit the potential of photovoltaics,» comments Stephen Wittkopf, architect and scientist at the Lucerne School of Engineering and Architecture. He is following this goal together with Monika Gold, Head of the Bachelor’s Program in Graphic Design at the Lucerne School of Art and Design. Together they have developed a concept for designing the solar panels in bright colors and with a range of different motifs. In this way, they want to dispel the aesthetic reservations of the architects and make fitting solar panels on building facades an attractive proposition. Together with their colleagues Anika Rosen and Ran Xu, they have created a range of different designs that are attached to the panels on the external glass layer.
«Blue-black panels are a sensible choice. The darker they are, the more sunlight they absorb – and the more sunlight they absorb, the more electricity they produce,» explains Gold. The team has optimized the brightly colored panels to such an extent that they now achieve at least 80 percent of the electricity produced by standard blue-black panels. «This was a real balancing act between aesthetics and engineering, where we had to constantly ask ourselves just how much color is possible,» says Gold.
Almost as efficient as the usual suspects
«High levels of light transmission and printed glass are normally contradictory, which is why we had to bring the requirements of both together in perfect harmony,» comments Peter Schaad, Managing Director at Glas Trösch. The company showed a great deal of interest in the research work at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. The employees gladly accepted the challenge of finding a solution together with the research team. «This demonstrated once again how promising it is for researchers at university-level institutions and companies to come together and share their specialist knowledge,» says Schaad. Seven designs with various color densities are now available. In terms of efficiency levels, these designs reach 75, 80, 85 and 90 percent of the electricity production seen in conventional panels. In addition to efficiency, it was also important to take into account the aesthetic impact – especially when the photovoltaic technology is attached to the building facade. While the individual panels and their designs can be seen close up, anyone looking at them from afar should see a uniform appearance across the whole area.
Field test on the building coming soon
Different university-level institutions are currently working on making solar panels more attractive. However, only the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts is focusing on the external glass layer that covers the module. This work is being done in the research departments at just the right time. The cantonal energy directors have approved the «Model Provisions of the Cantons in the Energy Field» (MuKEn), which are now being incorporated into cantonal regulations to promote the energy revolution.
Author: Sarah Nigg