Home » BIM and Energy » Solar Panel Facade Types, Advantages and Installation

Solar Panel Facade

Solar Panel Facade Types, Advantages and Installation

Solar panel facades are photovoltaic modules installed on the facade of a building. What are the advantages and how do they enhance the aesthetic appearance?

In the world of solar energy, when we mention photovoltaic panels, we often think of installations on residential rooftops or ground-mounted systems. However, there’s another type worthy of attention: “solar panel facades.” These panels adorn building walls, harnessing sunlight to generate electrical energy directly from the building itself. This approach not only offers energy benefits but also significant aesthetic value. In this article, we delve into detail about facade photovoltaic panels, highlighting the advantages of this solution.

Photovoltaic panels require direct and consistent exposure to sunlight to function optimally. This means not all facades are suitable for solar panel installation, especially those inadequately exposed or shaded during the day. Hence, orientation, shading and structural integration are all fundamental elements for the systems’ success. Therefore, make sure to use a photovoltaic software that enables the design of various photovoltaic systems, positioning, sizing and maximizing their performance.

What are Solar panels for facades?

Also known as photovoltaic facades, they represent a photovoltaic technology type used to generate electrical energy by integrating solar panels directly into the vertical surfaces of buildings. These panels are designed to replace or be integrated into traditional facade materials, such as glass, aluminum, metal, or other construction materials, harmonizing with the building’s architecture, offering aesthetically pleasing solutions.

Solar Panel Facade - Solarius-PV

Solar Panel Facade – Solarius-PV

How Solar panels on facades work

Photovoltaic panels can be installed on building facades or be an integral part of their structure. In both cases, their primary function is to capture energy from sunlight and convert it into usable electrical energy. Specifically:

  • Facade-mounted photovoltaic panels, on balconies, windows, or glass surfaces, capture sunlight. These panels consist of photovoltaic cells containing semiconductor materials that absorb solar light;
  • The photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electrical energy;
  • The continuous energy produced by the photovoltaic panels is sent to a device called an inverter, which converts this direct current into alternating current, ready for use.

Solar panel facade: installation

The installation and integration of photovoltaic facades require careful planning and specialized skills to ensure optimal results in terms of energy efficiency and aesthetics.

Design and Context Assessment

Before proceeding with the installation, it’s essential to evaluate the solar exposure of the building’s facades. Southeast or southwest-facing facades are ideal as they receive more direct sunlight. Design should consider any shadows cast by nearby buildings or natural obstructions.

Careful calculation of the facades’ load-bearing capacity is necessary to safely support solar panels and fixing systems, particularly in areas prone to strong winds or snow loads. Based on the project’s specific needs, the most suitable solar panel technology is selected, which may include polycrystalline silicon modules, thin-film options, or flexible photovoltaic panels.

Installation and Integration

The installation of photovoltaic panels can be carried out using various mounting techniques. Panels can be pre-assembled into multi-panel modules or connected individually, depending on project size and preferences. Specially designed fixing systems for facades, either vertical or horizontal, ensure strong panel adhesion to the building’s surface.

During installation, it’s crucial to maintain the overall aesthetics of the building, paying attention to panel arrangement to ensure a consistent look with the architectural design. Finally, solar panels need to be correctly wired and connected to the inverter or control unit. This step is fundamental to transforming solar energy into usable power for the building.

Maintenance and Monitoring

Once installed, photovoltaic panels require periodic maintenance for optimal operation. This maintenance may include panel cleaning, inspection of fixing systems and checking electrical connections. Implementing performance monitoring systems is crucial to track the solar panels’ energy efficiency over time. These systems detect potential issues promptly and optimize energy production.

The following video is the first in a series of tutorials on the solar design software, where you’ll be able to design your installation integrated onto a building facade positioned at a 90° angle. This software allows you to model the photovoltaic facade area, resize the actual laying area and select the photovoltaic field using the wizard.

Solar panel facade: advantages and disadvantages

Understanding both the advantages and disadvantages associated with this technology is essential.

  • Advantages:
    • Integrated energy production: One of the main reasons facade panels are gaining popularity is their ability to passively convert sunlight into electricity. This means buildings can become energy generators, contributing to reducing dependence on traditional electrical grids;
    • Energy efficiency: These panels can reduce the amount of solar heat entering the building on hot days, helping maintain a comfortable indoor temperature and reducing the need for cooling systems;
    • Enhanced aesthetics: Unlike traditional rooftop-mounted solar panels, photovoltaic facades can be integrated directly into the building’s architecture, enabling architects to create aesthetically pleasing buildings that produce energy simultaneously;
    • Space maximization: Using building facades for energy production eliminates the need for additional space for solar panel installation, particularly advantageous in urban areas where space is limited;
    • Reduced carbon emissions: Buildings generating their own energy reduce the need to extract and use fossil fuels for electricity.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Limited solar exposure: Facades inadequately exposed or shaded during the day may not be suitable for solar panel installation;
    • Initial costs: Installing photovoltaic facades may involve higher initial costs compared to traditional building cladding solutions;
    • Lower efficiency of thin-film modules: Although thin-film modules are flexible and adaptable to vertical surfaces, they have a lower average energy efficiency than polycrystalline modules. This means more space might be needed to achieve the same energy output;
    • Orientation and inclination: To maximize efficiency, photovoltaic panels must be correctly oriented and inclined relative to the sun. This requires accurate design and an understanding of local conditions.

Solar panel facade: types

Each module type has its specific applications and advantages, chosen based on project needs, building facade layout and aesthetic requirements. The primary technologies used in the construction of facade photovoltaic systems are:

  • Polycrystalline silicon modules;
  • Thin-film modules;
  • Flexible photovoltaic panels;
  • Ventilated photovoltaic facades.

Polycrystalline Silicon Modules

Polycrystalline silicon photovoltaic modules consist of polycrystalline solar cells made from melted silicon ingots, then cut into thin layers. These modules are often used in residential and commercial installations. However, while they have an energy efficiency ranging between 18% and 20%, they are less suitable for vertical facades compared to horizontal surfaces due to their rigid design and challenges related to installation on non-flat walls.

Thin-Film Modules

Thin-film modules, known for their flexibility and adaptability to vertical and undulating surfaces, are made with thin semiconductor materials like amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, or copper-indium-gallium-selenium (CIGS). Although they have lower energy efficiency, averaging around 9-10%, compared to polycrystalline modules, their flexibility makes them ideal for building facades. They can conform to irregular surfaces, allowing greater architectural integration without compromising aesthetics.

Flexible Photovoltaic Panels

These panels are a subset of thin-film modules and are characterized by considerable flexibility. Made with even thinner and lighter materials, they offer increased versatility in installation. These panels are particularly suitable for curved or three-dimensional surfaces, allowing for unique architectural solutions.

Ventilated Photovoltaic Facades

Ventilated photovoltaic facades represent an emerging technology using building windows for solar energy production. These thin panels, often made with thin-film technology, replace traditional glass in windows. While they may reduce solar radiation inside buildings, they offer significant potential for solar energy integration into existing buildings.