Designer solar: new tool unlocks smart solar design

Designer solar: new tool unlocks smart solar design

Designing buildings with solar cleverly incorporated into the design has just become easier, thanks to software developed at RMIT University.

Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, are building features such as roof tiles, cladding and windows that double as solar panels.

Depending on the dwelling, BIPVs can cover a greater area of a building, generating solar energy from different angles. They also look smart and can be customised.

Despite the potential of BIPVs, conventional roof-mounted panels continue to account for the lion’s share of new installations in Australia due to the extra complexity in predicting performance and sourcing BIPV technology.

Now a team at RMIT has created software to help architects and engineers incorporate, source and cost BIPV in a building’s conceptual design phase. 

The software, funded by RMIT and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is the first of its kind to be designed using Australian data.

Project lead Associate Professor Rebecca Yang from the Solar Energy Application Group said she hoped the tool, called BIPV Enabler, would help make buildings greener.

“This is the perfect solution for building designers and developers looking to select the right solar option to suit their design,” said Yang, who is the director of the Australian PV Institute and driving the BIPV Alliance.

“We’re making integrated-solar a more attractive option to developers, slicing the time it would normally take to research and implement incognito solar devices. 

“This isn’t just for new buildings either. Those looking to retro fit integrated solar into existing buildings will benefit too.”

RMIT student Aminath Samaha using the BIPV Enabler during class. RMIT student Aminath Samaha using the BIPV Enabler during class. Credit: RMIT University.

The tool integrates product, regulation, technical, economic and construction data to create 3D models and detailed lifecycle simulations tailored to each building’s planned location.

It comes as the construction of Australia’s first office tower to be fully clad in solar panels was announced last year.

For architects like Nic Bao, BIPV Enabler is set to help bridge the gap between BIPV technology and architectural design.

Bao, a Lecturer in Architecture, said having a tool to effortlessly incorporate factors such as climate, building code and materials would make solar-savvy design easier. 

“There are so many technical factors to consider when integrating BIPV into a design that it hadn’t been a popular choice, which was a missed opportunity,” he said.

RMIT Associate Professor Rebecca Yang with student Aminath Samaha, who is using the BIPV Enabler during class. Associate Professor Rebecca Yang said the BIPV Enabler will help architects and engineers incorporate, source and cost BIPV in a building’s conceptual design phase. Credit: RMIT University

The other challenge faced by designers and developers using integrated solar is choosing and sourcing materials.

BIPV Enabler helps with both, boasting Australia’s first photovoltaic product database where Australian suppliers can be easily identified.

Among the tool’s features are maps, a 3D shape library, solar visualisations, hourly weather data and pricing information for materials and feed-in tariffs.

Yang said BIPV Enabler also worked with computer-aided design programs and could be scaled and customised to incorporate other open-source datasets to suit changing needs.

“We hope to see more buildings capable of generating solar electricity, while maintaining good design standards – a win for the planet and aesthetics,” Yang said.

If you’re interested in trying BIPV Enabler, contact the Solar Energy Application Group.


Story: Aeden Ratcliffe and Shu Shu Zheng


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.