Traditional photovoltaic panels, while an excellent source of renewable solar energy, have some design flaws. One of the main drawbacks is that they require lots of open, flat space for installation. As a solution to this, AVANCIS, a German firm that specializes in thin-film photovoltaics, has produced SKALA, a Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) system for facades.
SKALA’s energy-generating facade panels
Facades are usually passive elements of a building. While they can provide support to active systems for thermal comfort and airflow, they usually do not harness energy for buildings to use. SKALA panels change this narrative. SKALA facades use a frameless BIPV modular system to generate solar power for buildings. Each module is 158.7 by 66.4 centimeters in size with a thickness of 3.8 cm. This size is similar to the dimensions of glass façade panels, making SKALA a versatile option for building skins. If need be, the SKALA BIPVs can also be cropped for customized panel sizes.
SKALA facade panels are easy to install and integrate. They are frameless and do not use mechanical clamps on the front. Instead, they use a back-rail system to be clasped onto the structure. The panels are best suited for rainscreen facades. This is when the cladding projects off the moisture barrier and insulative layers. The inner layers provide thermal insulation and vapor control while the outer layer, which in this case consists of SKALA panels, keeps out the rain. The modules can also be paneled alongside other materials, like aluminum, wood and metal cladding, for more intricate building envelopes.
The modules also come in a variety of color swatches, including black (the standard color), grey, green, blue and gold. Depending on the color, absorption and efficiency of solar energy are impacted. The lighter-colored BIPVs will produce slightly less energy than those that are darker colors. However, because the panels are intended to cover substantial parts of the building envelope, they can still generate enough energy to power the spaces. For clean backup electricity in case of extreme weather or other circumstances, the panels can be used alongside other renewable energy systems.
The power of solar skins
Solar building skins have several benefits. They can be used to lower the embedded carbon footprint of a building and consistently generate sufficient electricity for spaces. Because of the advanced technology used to produce the BIPV panels, they are highly efficient. This is the case even in unfavorable weathers or site conditions.
Cutting down carbon emissions
One key benefit of incorporating solar skins into construction is how they lower carbon emissions. These are related to both the building’s energy production and its embedded carbon footprint. Firstly, by integrating solar panels into building skins, there is little to no reliance on other forms of energy production.
Across the world, countries are trying to shift from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewable sources to help the planet. By utilizing SKALA facades, this shift is simple as the cladding can meet much of the building’s energy needs. If there is a requirement for additional energy, other renewable resources can be used depending on what best suits the climatic conditions of the site.
Secondly, since SKALA facades utilize solar power to run buildings for their lifetime, this can be used to cut down each space’s embedded carbon footprint. The embedded carbon footprint factors in the greenhouse gases that were emitted during the construction of the building, transportation of materials and any other manufacturing-related emissions.
Unfortunately, because of modern construction methods, most buildings have large embedded footprints. However, by incorporating renewable energy technologies such as SKALA facades and other emission-lowering strategies, tons of further greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided. Over time, these avoided emissions cancel out those that factor into the embedded carbon footprint. This allows spaces to be carbon neutral (or even carbon negative) within a few years of construction.
SKALA cladding versatility
Another benefit is that AVANCIS’ SKALA panels are great at generating power for spaces. Most solar panels are advantageous to regions that are sunny and dry. However, SKALA modules have been designed to work in all kinds of climates and site conditions to efficiently supply power to buildings. Because of this flexibility, SKALA facades have the potential to be used across the globe and provide spaces with clean energy.
Constructing with SKALA façade cladding
Recently, an office in Melbourne, Australia was designed by architect Peter Kennon. The building will be completely clad in 1,182 SKALA panels. Though SKALA thin-film solar panels were approved for use in Europe a few years ago, they are slowly gaining recognition in other parts of the world. In line with Australia’s strict construction codes, the panels are currently undergoing their final tests for approval for the office building project. If the tests are successful, then SKALA panels can be utilized in future projects across the country.
Kennon believes that this is an excellent system for Australia because of the easy access to sunlight and the Australian climate. The material has potential to be utilized in other projects to minimize the dependence on non-renewable energy sources. Currently, fossil fuels like coal and gas produce 70% of Australia’s electricity needs. Utilizing solar skins like SKALA would greatly alleviate the reliance on traditional energy sources to lessen greenhouse gas emissions.
By opting for versatile, active systems like SKALA cladding for building envelopes, there can be a shift to efficient renewable energy systems without the concerns for extra space or optimized site conditions. This way, urban environments on a global scale could benefit from clean, renewable energy systems and carbon-neutral spaces.
Images via Kennon | CUUB