BIPV Keeps California Architecture Cool and Powered

There was a lot of planning to do when the California Department of General Services decided to make their Caltrans District 7 Headquarters a structure that would garner a silver rating from the federal Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Consulting firm ARUP planned for energy efficiency in the 14-story building, and included a facade on the high-rise that was designed to host building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Caltrans is the California Department of Transportation, and the $190 million District 7 building is considered a part of the Downtown renaissance for the Los Angeles area. The L-shaped building has solar shading panels on the east and west sides of the building that keep out direct sunlight, but angle indirect sunlight through the building. Lights inside the office space are fitted with sensors that adjust the indoor lighting to balance with the amount of natural light coming in. Where the sunlight is strongest on the south side of the building, solar PV manufacturer Atlantis Energy Systems (AES) recently completed the building’s façade with an 84 kW BIPV array of vision glass panels. Vision glass panels use a glazing technique that applies a transparent of translucent material to layered window glass. The National Center for Photovoltaics states on their Web site that the glazing material can have photovoltaic qualities for solar energy production, and it also allows light to pass through the window. The array consists of 897 panels rated at 94 W minimum each, and is expected to supply approximately 5 percent of the power needs of the 1.2 million square foot building. Positioned on the southwest side of the building, the array extends from the fourth floor to above the roof deck. Glass on glass laminates allow light penetration through the spaces between the cells, and the BIPV eliminates the aluminum frames that are associated with standard PV panels. Light that comes through the panels to the interior is similar to filtered light produced by the perforated metal skin, or scrim, used for solar shading on the building’s east and west facades. Power generated by the array is fed into the building’s electrical distribution system. “Building integrated photovoltaics can be proudly and visibly incorporated into world-class buildings without detracting from their architectural statement. That is certainly what we have tried to do here,” said Joe Morrissey, the vice president of Sales for Atlantis. “Integrating the panels with the overall look of the building was important to Morphosis, and Atlantis custom capabilities allowed Thom Mayne, head architect, the flexibility needed to seamlessly integrate photovoltaics with the overall look of the building.”

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