RMIT develops tool to unlock solar design

Monday, 16 October, 2023

RMIT develops tool to unlock solar design

Software developed at RMIT University can help architects and engineers incorporate solar into the design of a building, not just on the roof.

Called building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), they are building features such as roof tiles, cladding and windows that double as solar panels. Depending on the dwelling, BIPVs can cover a greater area of a building, generating solar energy from different angles. They also look smart and can be customised.

Despite the potential of BIPVs, conventional roof-mounted panels continue to account for the lion’s share of installations in Australia due to the complexity in predicting performance and sourcing BIPV technology.

An RMIT team has created software called BIPV Enabler to help architects and engineers incorporate, source and cost BIPV in a building’s conceptual design phase. The software, funded by RMIT and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is claimed to be the first of its kind to be designed using Australian data.

Project lead Associate Professor Rebecca Yang from RMIT’s Solar Energy Application Group said she hoped the BIPV Enabler would help make buildings greener.

“We’re making integrated solar a more attractive option to developers, slicing the time it would normally take to research and implement incognito solar devices. This isn’t just for new buildings either. Those looking to retrofit integrated solar into existing buildings will benefit too,” Yang said.

The tool integrates product, regulation, technical, economic and construction data to create 3D models and detailed lifecycle simulations tailored to each building’s planned location. This comes as the construction of Australia’s first office tower to be fully clad in solar panels was announced last year.

Nic Bao, a Lecturer in Architecture at RMIT, said having this tool would make solar-savvy design easier.

“Making BIPV design more accessible promotes sustainable development of energy-efficient buildings, while providing opportunities for low-carbon architecture,” Bao said.

The other challenge faced by designers and developers using integrated solar is choosing and sourcing materials. BIPV Enabler helps with both, boasting Australia’s photovoltaic product database where suppliers can be easily identified.

The tool’s features include maps, a 3D shape library, solar visualisations, hourly weather data and pricing information for materials and feed-in tariffs.

According to Yang, BIPV Enabler also works with computer-aided design programs and can be scaled and customised to incorporate other open-source datasets to suit changing needs.

“We hope to see more buildings capable of generating solar electricity, while maintaining good design standards — a win for the planet and aesthetics,” Yang said.

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