Spokane Journal of Business

Architects research why solar energy is uncommon

Group tries to find ways to work power source into early-stage design

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Solar energy can be harnessed to both heat and power buildings, so why isn't it specified more often in building design?

Seeking to answer that question is the International Energy Agency's Solar Heating and Cooling Program's Task 41: Solar Energy and Architecture, a research project that involves 70 researchers, academics, professionals, and graduate students from 15 countries.

The research shows that while architects believe solar energy to be an increasingly viable option, many face significant obstacles that hinder them from incorporating this renewable energy resource into building designs.

"While barriers exist, we're still finding that architects are interested in making a difference by integrating solar strategies into their designs," says Miljana Horvat, of the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University, of Toronto. Horvat leads the project's Team Canada along with Professor Marie-Claude Dubois, of the cole d'Architecture at Universit Laval, of Quebec City.

The ultimate goal of the group is to achieve high-quality architecture that uses active and passive solar strategies and to improve the qualifications of architects in developing solar strategies. It will look at their interactions with engineers, manufacturers, and clients. International researchers are working to develop criteria for architectural integration of solar energy systems; identify methods and tools for solar design; and establish concepts, guidelines, and case studies.

Team Canada's research includes a survey of architects from 14 countries that has yielded insights into how to improve digital tools for solar design to make it easier for architects to integrate both passive and active solar energy strategies during the early design stage. They also found that better training would help many architects improve their skills in working with solar and energy simulation tools and address the perception that these tools are too complex, expensive, and time-consuming.

To date, the group's teams have completed five reports and conference papers that identify existing barriers to implementing solar energy and the knowledge required for architects, engineers, manufacturers, and developers to integrate solar strategies into building design.

"It's important to conduct research like this, because we know that up to 80 percent of design decisions that can influence buildings' energy performance are made at the early design stage," Horvat says. "Now, the question is, do architects have the right tools to make those decisions?"

The work of Team Canada will continue to develop guidelines to overcome these barriers and encourage the use of solar technologies and strategies in buildings from the early-design stage.

Each country involved in the International Energy Agency's Solar Heating and Cooling Program must secure its own research funding. Financial support for Team Canada activity is provided by Natural Resources Canada.

Ryerson University offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs.

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