Landmark Solar Project Takes Cues from Nature

One of the most unusual sustainable buildings in the world, designed on nature’s architecture and generating energy from daylight, was launched last week in a light show at the Eden Project in Cornwall. True to the Eden Project’s principles, the new education and research facility, named The Core, is a superb example of sustainability using building-integrated photovoltaics (PV).

Described by Tim Smit, Eden CEO, as “the finest modern building in the world,” The Core is the most geometrically complex roof structure into which the UK-based solar installation company Solarcentury has ever installed solar panels. The building’s architecture follows the Fibonacci series — a unique pattern at the heart of nature that generates, for example, the spirals in snail’s shells or the pattern of seeds in the head of a sunflower. In order to integrate the photovoltaics into the building’s unique form, the panels were intricately faceted over a bespoke mounting structure constructed from a spiral of steel tubes. When viewed from above the panel’s spiral outward in a ring around the heart of the building, forming the shape of a flower with eleven individual petals. Each petal of the flower uses a combination of Sharp 80W panels and Kyocera 40W panels, arranged in descending row lengths, extending from the center of the building. At the center of The Core, the PV panels descend to a solar terrace, encircled by bespoke Romag 80W glass-glass laminates that outline the center of the flower. The glass-glass laminates, mounted using bolt-through fittings, provide a canopy to protect the building’s exterior timber helping to offset the costs of regular building materials. Dan Davies, Director of Engineering, explained some of the problems Solarcentury overcame during the construction project: “The Core’s orientation was not ideal for solar energy generation due to partially north facing roof angles and potential shading problems from surrounding roof lights. To maximize generation we optimized the system’s electrical design to improve the performance of the array, in addition to careful inverter selection and PV module interconnection.” Despite the challenge of The Core’s intricate design, the PV was fully installed within the project’s build program. Since connection to the grid, in mid-August 2005, the PV system has generated more than 5000 kWh of energy, enough electricity to power two three-bedroom homes for an entire year. More than two tons of CO2 emissions have therefore been prevented from entering the atmosphere. Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the project’s architect, is enthusiastic about the building’s future: “It is a very green building and one conducive to learning for both adults and children. If every building was designed like this, the world would be a better place.” It is estimated that the system will generate 20,000 kWh each year, enough electricity to light an average three-bedroom house for more than 33 years. This will save more than nine tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to what 12 trees could absorb from the atmosphere over 100 years. The Core has taken two years to construct at a cost of GBP15 million. Major sponsors include the Millennium Commission Lottery, South West Regional Development Agency, and European Regional Development Fund, via Objective One. “With education as its prime purpose the new Core building will also fly the flag for Cornwall’s knowledge-based economy aims, opening the eyes and minds of the thousands of young people who will use it every year,” said David Whalley, Leader of Cornwall County Council.
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