Researchers Look into 'Power Plant' Facade


Researchers based out of EPFL's Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (Lausanne, Switzerland) recently developed a building facade that harvests more power than the unit requires. The facade also actively monitors the needs of those inside the unit, adjusting lighting and other elements as needed to create a comfortable living and working environment.

The facade, dubbed “SolAce,” can be found on Empa and Eawag's research and innovation building in Dübendorf. The new space was opened on Monday (Sept. 24).(Empa and Eawag are research firms; Eawag specializes in water research.)

Power Plant Facade

The 100-square-meter unit provides both living and working space, with the cladding harvesting more power over the course of the year than the unit needs. A combination of active and passive facade elements are conducive to a productive working experience, while also providing adjustments to facilitate rest.

Photovoltaic modules and solar thermal collectors, coated with a nano-glazing, contribute to the unit’s positive energy balance. A team from EPFL has been working on research that promotes integrating photovoltaic units into building envelopes through offering different colors.

"Because the nano-coating is very transparent, there are virtually no absorption effects and just very minor energy losses," team leader Andreas Schüler said.

The SolAce unit offers working space for four people and a living area for two. Prototype optical sensors read the space as a user would by measuring lighting conditions and glare. Adjustments to lighting are made in response to glare, for example. Circadian lighting also emulates sunlight over the course of the day, which contributes to a healthy sleeping and waking pattern.

Window interiors are coated with a micro-structured glazing in a polymer film, which directs light during the winter toward the ceiling for more even illumination. In summer, the coating directs the light away from the windows, preventing the rooms from becoming too heated. The team that developed the coating, also led by Schüler, is working with working with BASF / Switzerland to further manufacture the product. Once the first windowpanes are created, they will be installed in the unit; for now, reference panes will be providing benchmark numbers.

To start, EPFL researchers will be using the rooms and monitoring and adjusting the technology in the unit. Next, guests will be allowed to use the space.

"Striking the balance between theory and practice was not always easy, but we learned a lot of new things and we can use this knowledge in future projects,” unit architect Fabrice Macherel, of Lutz Architects, said.


Tagged categories: Building facades; Building science; Color + Design; Europe; Research and development; Smart coatings

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