Technology

Best Practices for Integrated Solar Technology in Commercial Construction

Moving beyond rooftop panels, embracing invisible solutions and taking advantage of economic incentives.
By Veeral Hardev
April 24, 2023
Topics
Technology

Real estate and construction account for 40% of global carbon emissions, and commercial buildings are responsible for 20% of total U.S. energy consumption. Improving these metrics has significant implications for builders, building owners and society in general, and renewable energy installations are at the forefront of these efforts. Last year, a CBRE survey found that 40% of industrial respondents implemented some form of renewable energy into their on-site operations, while new commercial construction, like office buildings, schools and government facilities, are increasingly incorporating solar power into their building plans.

The benefits are multifaceted, including reducing energy costs, increasing property value and lowering a site’s carbon footprint.

As commercial construction looks to elevate renewable energy installations this year, here are three best practices that can help guide the process.

1. EXPLORE COMPLIMENTARY SOLAR TECHNOLOGIES

When most people think of the potential of solar power, rooftop panels are usually first to come to mind. Indeed, rooftop solar has grown exponentially in the past decade as shrinking costs, increased financial incentives and broad accessibility have elevated consumer interest at scale.

Until now, builders were mostly constrained to this single solar solution. Today, photovoltaic solar technology can be integrated and implemented in underutilized parts of buildings.

For example, photovoltaic windows generate electricity by harvesting energy from infrared and ultraviolet light while allowing visible light to pass through. This technology can complement rooftop solar panels, allowing commercial buildings to maximize renewable energy production without compromise. This technology can even be the primary solar solution in cases where the rooftop is not physically or financially feasible.

There are numerous implications for builders when integrating solar technologies, including:

  • Establishing relationships with renewable energy partners that frequently work on new construction.
  • Utilizing the massive amount of real estate the facade presents versus the already overcrowded rooftop.
  • Effectively meeting renewable energy code compliance with all available solar technologies.
  • Valuing engineering electrical design to benefit multiple solar technologies.
  • Selecting solar technologies that seamlessly fit into the construction process.

When implemented effectively, designers, architects and builders have more freedom to develop and implement incredible designs by leveraging aesthetically pleasing solar solutions.

2.EXPAND USE CASES FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY

Commercial construction typically integrates rooftop solar solutions, capitalizing on large, unseen spaces with good exposure to sunlight to generate renewable energy.

However, this approach limits opportunities to implement green energy solutions. For example, tall buildings have less rooftop space while requiring a lot of electricity, making it difficult for urban planners to make incorporating renewable energy a realistic solution. Furthermore, for many tall buildings, integrating rooftop solar is not a viable option due to space limitations and use of the roof for other purposes and systems.

But now, builders can look to transparent and invisible solar solutions to integrate renewable energy generation into places people look and see all the time, including vertical surfaces and windows.

Similarly, photovoltaic shingles, a type of building-integrated photovoltaics designed to look like traditional roof shingles, can be installed on the roof of a building as a replacement for conventional asphalt roof shingles. They are a popular choice for those looking to incorporate renewable energy into their construction projects, as they are relatively easy to install and do not require any additional space on the roof or property. This allows designers, engineers and builders to offer more flexible solar solutions to accommodate aesthetic, code or regulatory requirements.

Notably, expanding use cases for renewable energy doesn’t discount the impact of traditional solar panels. Rather, these uses complement traditional solar, expanding opportunities for electricity generation from a building without impacting aesthetic or design requirements.

3. ENGAGE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

For builders and building owners, incentives to integrate renewable energy solutions have never been more impactful, especially when local building codes require it.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) introduces new tax deductions for commercial entities, including the Energy-Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction, U.S. Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program and other benefits.

At the same time, federal, state and local laws and regulations are recognizing that clean, renewable energy will be a requirement, not an amenity, in the years to come and incentivizing commercial building solutions. These incentives and credits are important so that end consumers can purchase renewable energy solutions at competitive prices. Furthermore, a mature renewable energy financing market can competitively support the integration of renewable energy into construction projects.

MAKING THE MOST OF SOLAR ENERGY

With the built environment generating 40% of annual global CO2 emissions and the global building floor area expected to double by 2060, there is an urgent need for renewable energy sources that can power the present and help propel us into a cleaner future.

There are several best practices that can help guide the incorporation of renewable energy into commercial construction, including the exploration of complementary solar technologies, the expansion of use cases for renewable energy, engagement with eco-conscious customers and the development of renewable energy financing options.

By embracing these solar technology trends, building owners and buildings alike will encourage clean energy solutions, higher property values and a more sustainable future.

by Veeral Hardev

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