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Examining the solar potential of cities

The MIT Senseable City Lab recently asked: How does urban morphology affect the solar potential of cities? If you assume that transparent photovoltaic cells are on the way and that building facades are soon going to become a place where we generate solar energy, then this is actually a pretty interesting question. Are some built environments naturally better suited than others?

To answer this question, they looked at the “urban surfaces” of ten cities, including New York, Singapore, Toronto (pictured above), Hong Kong, Paris, as well as others. These surfaces included roofs, facades, and ground planes.

What they, not surprisingly, discovered is that you need a lot of exposed facades to get the numbers up. And so the cities that come out on top in terms of annual solar irradiation are cities like New York and Singapore. They have a lot of tall buildings, but they also fluctuate in height, giving greater exposure to the facades.

All of this is potentially relevant because — if building facades become a big deal for solar — it could start to inform how we plan our cities. In fact, I would go so far as to bet that, over the long-term, solar energy will have a greater impact on urban morphologies than this current pandemic.

Image: MIT Senseable City Lab

1 Comment so far

  1. We got an estimate for PV solar window power generation from Onyx Solar for our proposed mega-development. It was 3-4% of the building’s total needs, depending on how the other renewables did. That sounds bad, but our building is nearly 25m sf, so not really. Also, I don’t think the representative gave enough credit to where the windows are actually skylights and more facing the sun, and also the fact that it straddles the East River and would be completely unblocked by other buildings.

    More details and video here:

    Liked by 1 person

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