Record-Setting Solar Market Shines Light on New Design Trends

Filed in Awards, Design, Environmental by on December 17, 2015 1 Comment

2015 could very well be a record-setting year for the solar market. The third quarter set another record for growth of residential solar installations, increasing 69% year over year and accounting for 41% of the U.S. solar market.

Details of this growth and projections for a record-setting Q4 were released last week in a report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. Coupled with the likely extension of several energy efficiency tax credits, the solar market is poised for an even bigger boom over the next five years.

As the United States increasingly embraces solar energy, design trends in home building will continue to evolve. This evolution is changing perspectives of builders, architects and home owners alike, many of whom previously considered solar panels to be eyesores, more than anything.

But despite new design techniques and preferences, many are still asking themselves a big question about solar panels: Do I want to show them off, or hide them away?

The answer varies largely based on project size, location and budget.

A street view of "Creston Avenue" in the Bronx, with its solar panels on full display.

A street view of Creston Avenue in the Bronx, with its solar panels on full display.

“Just within the last few years we’ve seen the viewpoints of architects and owners change a great deal, to where they seem to be increasingly looking for ways to integrate solar panels in a way that’s visually appealing,” said James Hannah, director of client energy services at Bright Power.

“Depending on the design of the home, panels can either detract from the building’s overall aesthetics, or they can enhance it in a variety of ways,” Hannah said. “The key is to integrate them as early as possible into the overall design process.”

Hannah recently consulted with Magnusson Architecture & Planning on an affordable multifamily project in the Bronx that prominently features its solar panels. The owner of the 10-story building knew early on that he wanted to include solar power, which gave the builder the advantage of ordering the optimal materials to maximize available rooftop space.

Creston Avenue's lobby display, summarizing real-time solar generation data.

Creston Avenue’s lobby display, summarizing real-time solar generation data.

Not only are the solar panels highly visible from the street level, their environmental impact is showcased to residents and visitors on a TV monitor in the main lobby. There, they can see real-time solar power generation data.

For other projects, the goal may be to conceal the solar panels as much as possible.

One of the homes recently built by Michael K. Walker & Associates Inc. in Sarasota, Fla. includes mostly hidden solar power features. Siesta Key is a single-family home designed with a flat roof to accommodate its solar farm. On average, it produces 15,000 watts of power, capable of supporting the normal daily operation of the residence.

"Siesta Key" in Sarasota, Fla. can produce an average of 15,000 watts of electricity each day.

The Siesta Key model in Sarasota, Fla. can produce an average of 15,000 watts of electricity.

Walker said that for most of his clients, the aesthetic element almost always wins out. If certain design limitations can’t be overcome and the solar panels can’t be installed in a visually appealing way, the client is very likely to pass. Likewise, most architects will steer clear of solar panels if the end result might have any unattractive characteristics.

Though not every project is capable of having an attractive solar panel design, for many owners, it’s an opportunity that makes sense, both economically and aesthetically (not to mention environmentally).

Visit nahb.org for additional information on green building and design.

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  1. Adam Dawson says:

    Very interesting read. It’s nice to see that the solar energy market is starting to take larger strides and is seeing more adoption. It would be intriguing to look further into this and see if this growth was caused by technological advancements making solar power more effective or the public’s interest in clean alternative energy sources. Hopefully these percentages continue to grow until the majority of energy is generated through solar power!

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