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Australia to Build Self Sufficient Skyscrapers with “Solar Skin”

The construction of Australia’s first office tower with a “solar skin” is slated to begin next year, marking a watershed moment for the real estate sector and attempts to reduce carbon emissions.

The eight-story skyscraper at 550-558 Spencer Street in West Melbourne will cost 40 million USD and was designed on behalf of Dr. Bella Freeman by the architecture firm Kennon.

It will be encased in 1,182 solar panels with the same thickness as a standard glass facade.

The Skala system, developed by the German company Avancis, is based on a “thin-film PV module” that sits atop a network that feeds the generated electricity into the building’s main power supply.

Energy Supply

The system can produce 50 times more energy than the typical rooftop photovoltaic solar system used in residential housing, and it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 tonnes each year.

When finished, the system will provide nearly enough power to meet the building’s energy requirements. The building is planned to have nearly no unremitting power expenditures and will be carbon-neutral after a few years with the placement of more panels on the roof.

The design outperforms a similar proposal by Cbus, a superannuation corporation with plans for a 49-story office tower at 435 Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD that is anticipated to cost 1 billion USD.

When the building is finished in 2026, a solar panel facade will provide 20% of the structure’s energy.

Green Buildings

Many structures start with a high carbon footprint, referred to as “embedded carbon,” because construction hinges on heavy machinery, transportation, and manufacturing processes driven by fossil fuels.

The construction industry is responsible for 39% of global CO2 emissions. According to the World Green Building Council, cement production accounts for 7% of world emissions, whereas steel production accounts for 7% and 9%.

Without depending on offsets or other accounting techniques, the architect, Pete Kennon, claimed that the Spencer Street skyscraper would pay off its carbon debt and “truly be carbon neutral.”

“These things are possible, and the notion that a structure can harvest sunlight from its skin sounds like something you’d read about in a science fiction novel,” Kennon said.

When Kennon discovered the German firm in 2019, he began studying sun skin products. Despite its involvement in European ventures, there has been no effort to bring the product to Australia.

“Australia has one of the strictest building codes globally, if not the toughest,” he remarked. “And, given the recent experience with combustible facades, it’s a – excuse the pun – extremely hot topic, so pitching a technology like this necessitates a great deal of due diligence.”

The solar skin is currently undergoing final testing before being authorized, after which the technology will be accessible for use in other structures.

The building appeals board decided on 7th April that the building could be constructed and that “the use of PV panels on the structure […] complies with performance standards.”

“We didn’t invent the product,” Kennon explained, “but we did invent how it can come to this country, and our country is such a huge market because of the accessibility to sunlight.”

“I can’t believe that hasn’t already been done.”