Beautiful robust solar architecture

Our civilization is imprinted with the modern infrastructure and technology necessary for our modern lives: buildings that we live and work in; roads and refineries for our transportation; power plants and the grid for our electricity, etc. From our kitchen gadgets to our communication devices to our vehicles, we are constantly surrounded by technology. And how gratifying it is to use technology that is well-designed … that is aesthetically inspiring as well as useful for a long time!

Our built environment – Are power lines beautiful?

We have become so accustomed to the many components of our built environment that we barely notice them – even though there is much that is not lovely. Consider utility poles and the ubiquitous strung wires of the grid or utility substations. Or roads. Or sewage processing plants. We simply accept these things as necessary parts of modern civilization.

And all this necessary infrastructure is, of course, constantly evolving. Ideally, over time, we’re building smarter – for higher functionality – and more aesthetically. Ideally.

Functionality. Yes, we want it to work. Aesthetics … hmmm. A subjective concept.

We humans are adaptable – and innovative – creatures. We, of course, want to continue to live comfortably. We’re constantly transforming our environment. And we are becoming ever more conscious that how we choose to live on our planet has consequences for the wellbeing of our home.

Renewable beauty in your neighborhood

Some people say that solar panels and wind turbines are ugly. Undoubtedly, these are foreign things in our environment. The natural landscape is “interrupted”. But, of course, for modern humans, the environment – at least the environment we reside in – means the ‘built’ environment. Unless you live in a cave, you are immersed in the built environment.

Yet, as the built environment changes over time, so does our perception of it. What is initially foreign often becomes familiar and is simply “there”.

Nature and technology can exist in harmony. Consider architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. The world-famous structure seamlessly integrates into the forest and creates a breathtaking spectacle.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Photo by Figuura (GNU License)

Building and enhancing our modern lifestyle doesn’t have to be an “interruption” of nature, rather an integration that preserves its beauty. As an increasingly ubiquitous part of our built environment, solar arrays can certainly be made more beautiful with careful consideration for how they integrate with a roof or a landscape. This is the art of solar architecture. Properly designed and installed, such arrays are robust and aesthetically appealing.

What are the criteria for a robust and aesthetically pleasing solar system?

#1 – Top quality components
SunPower panels are hands-down the most powerful and efficient panels on the market and they look great on any roof or mount. If you are looking to install something exceptionally beautiful, consider a Lumos awning.

#2 – Well-engineered electrical and mechanical design
Details matter. Careful wire sizing and properly torqued mechanical and electrical connections can dramatically minimize the energy loss of the system. The best system designers are mindful of how the array will integrate with the roof and/or surrounding space to incorporate excellent form and function.

#3 – Knowledgeable, experienced and conscientious electricians and installers
It is not just about what knowledge and skills the contractor brings to the system but also what they bring to the client. The ideal contractor is one that will educate their client on how to evaluate proper system performance.

So, where you can see examples of beautiful, robust solar?
For many of you – depending on where you live – just by taking a walk around your neighborhood, you’ll likely see solar installations – PV and thermal. Residential roof arrays – as well as pole and ground-mounted arrays are becoming ever more common.

You can also:

  • Take a “tour” of the IPS website
  • It can be fun and educational to take a tour of solar homes, available in many cities.
  • Also, 2015 is a Solar Decathlon year. This means there are lots of opportunities to see new, innovative designs using solar and other clean energy.