Being Green – Another Look at Solar

Hi Folks:

Normally I do my ‘Being Green‘ posts on Fridays, but this one’s been bumped a day.  I’ve written two previous posts on energy from the sun: “Going Solar” and “Bottling Sunshine“, but this week I wanted to highlight a couple of ongoing projects that are really addressing this more completely.

In his 2011 TED talk, Paul Romer outlined ideas for the world’s first ‘charter cities‘.  The idea has its own benefits and challenges, but it is already garnering some interest.  An example of a ‘charter city’ that is currently being built might be the following: If you do a search on the term ‘solar valley‘, one of projects will show up first is a ‘model city’ being constructed in Shandong, China.  A product of the Himin Solar Energy Group, China’s Solar Valley is looking to both produce and use solar technology concurrently.  From the website:

“Covering an area of over 330 hectares (815 acres) in total, China Solar Valley leads the way in solar industrialization, including the seven wonders in solar area, namely, an unprecedented solar thermal manufacturing base, the first automatic production line of evacuated tubes in the world, a company-owned solar museum, a PV lighting road of over 10 kilometers, a demonstration area for solar architectures, a professional testing center well beyond international requirements, an international renewable energy communication center—the main site of 2010 International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC).”

More information on this ‘model city’ may be found here.

Now, when one thinks of solar, three differing technologies come to mind.  One is the generation of electricity using solar photovoltaic  panels or by using a group of focused mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a boiler, and the second is to create hot water using evacuated tubes.  From an architectural design standpoint, there’s also the idea of ‘thermal mass’ and ‘passive solar’ design to aid in heating a building in winter but shading it in summer.  Passive solar design can work well in temperate climates, but in countries like Abu Dhabi in the UAE, keeping a building warm is rarely a concern.  When designing two new office towers in Abu Dhabi, Aedas was faced with the problem of how to keep the buildings cool in the face of their daily dose of sunshine.  While some designers might choose to use mechanical systems (air conditioning) to achieve this goal, they developed and implement a new twist on a very old idea.  A traditional component of Arabic architecture is the ‘Mashrabiya‘, a geometric lattice screen made of wood (or sometimes stone).  The Mashrabiya has been in use since at least the 12th century, and provides several advantages, among them privacy (the ability to see out without being seen), shade from the street, and through clever design, an updraft of cooling breeze.

For their project in Abu Dhabi, the design team created a set of mechanically operated, geometric ‘petals’ that open and close to provide shade from the heat of the sun.  The panels cover the south side of the buildings, and power for these shades is generated by photovoltaic panels on the building itself.  Since the panels are set about six feet out from the building, the space between the buildings’ windows and the panels provides an air column for updraft.  While not strictly biomimicry, the open and closing of the panels resembles a vertical field of flowers.  More information can be found on the Aedas Abu Dhabi site (move your mouse to the left edge of the screen to open the flyout menu – there’s a video segment as well as the images).  Personally, I think it’s brilliant!

Okay, that’s it for now…  Have a great week!!

Hugs,
Mike.

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