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Since the mass production of steel, nothing will change the earth’s urban and rural landscapes as much as solar panels may. Permanent fixtures to urban life such as train tracks, cars, skyscrapers, and even lamp posts have altered the Earth’s landscape and some have suggested it has made the planet seem a little smaller, less unique. Perhaps, to a lesser extent, solar panels may do the same. Some people, especially traditionalists are still resisting this change but it is inevitable – solar panels are taking over our roofs. Those against solar panels complain it would make their houses look like factories. However, the majority of the world realizes the importance and the extent of the value that solar panels add to a home and a business. Nevertheless, there are definitely ways to make solar panels more appealing and even artistic. Some artists have even created various artistic works based on solar installations. More importantly, for our buildings, we must find a way to combine form and function because solar is not going anywhere.
In a somewhat surprising move, homeowners’ associations have been the primary sticklers against solar installations. Although, they have often been connected with nitpicking small details – green lawns and perfectly trimmed hedges – it is surprising that their traditional aesthetic views have caused them to avoid solar energy. Some have severely restricted or even outright banned solar panel installations. However, in early 2012, nearly 24 states in the US have prevented homeowners associations and local governments from banning solar. This issue has even created some lawsuits. Nevertheless, there are groups that are helping solar energy expand. Some associations are helping fund solar energy for housing communities and in other countries, like Germany, solar panels have already become the norm. Ideally, we could create beautiful buildings with integrated solar panels, which is what the biennial Solar Decathlon teams are trying to do. The US Department of Energy sponsors this event for student teams that design houses based on “affordability, consumer appeal, design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency”. Perhaps, it will become a standard for future housing – a home that looks nice and works well.
Something new that we may come to see in larger cities will be solar panels on skyscrapers. Or perhaps, not at all. Realistically, most people will not be able to see any solar panels installed on the tops of these buildings and will not even know they are present. These panels will not disrupt the modern and regal appearance of skyscrapers.
The Willis Tower in Chicago (previously the Sears Tower) has motioned to exchange their old windows with solar panels. A prototype was installed in 2011 by Pythagoras Solar. A massive energy skyscraper, a downdraft tower, has been proposed for the Arizona-Mexico border which could really alter the future functionality of skyscrapers. New technologies such as spray-on solar panels and see-through technologies are improving and could really change the appearance of solar panels we think of today.
Companies Using Solar
Many businesses have also moved towards using solar, Google and Apple being two of its more famous supporters. Google recently invested $12 million in big solar projects in South Africa. Apple owns the largest privately owned solar array in the world. Their solar farm in North Carolina covers 100 acres with a capacity of 12MW, with an additional 100 acres to be purchased for more solar farms. Generally, many businesses will continue to install solar panels that will go unnoticed on flat roofs, while allowing them to save money on electricity.
Aesthetic Issues and the Future
One of the issues surrounding the aesthetics of installing solar panels is the lack of symmetry. Putting solar panels on north-facing roofs is pointless, often panels are installed only on southern (east or west too) facing walls. To create symmetry, installers could place faux solar panels but this could be more costly than necessary. Despite the absence of perfect symmetry, solar panels will continue to take over our roofs. Architects are integrating solar panels into new houses, combining form and function. Solar energy is becoming more affordable every day with government incentives, increasing fossil fuel prices, and decreasing solar panel prices. Even the utilities themselves have admitted that they need to alter their age-old models to accommodate solar and other renewable energies. We are witnessing a great energy paradigm shift, some sort of revolution. Solar is no longer “on the rise”, it is already here and we need to take full advantage of its possibilities.
Additional Sources: Huffington Post, Solar Decathlon