It’s not only building surfaces that provide opportunities for generating energy from the sun. Why not think about the whole site as a potential energy generating area? Buildings don’t sit in isolation and only form part of the spaces that make up places within our villages, towns and cities. Maybe it’s time we consider the potential for energy generation in every aspect of our built environment, whether buildings, the spaces between buildings or other installations around buildings, such as bus shelters, bike shelters, parking canopies, covered seating areas, bin stores, external plant areas, even art installations. It is possible to combine these practical features with energy generation and storage, providing a local power source for services such as lighting and electrical charging points.
Many car parks and transport hubs are covered in expensive structural glass canopies, which are susceptible to damage, and get dirty, very quickly starting to look tired if not properly maintained. Probably for comparable costs, these glazed structures could be replaced with PV canopies and shelters, which can include added features such as powering external lighting, making spaces safer, more attractive and more welcoming; also powering electrical charging points and display screens or signage. Providing a local power source could potentially save costs in running services to these often remote parts of sites too.
I have been working on a design for a PV powered bike storage shed, which could potentially provide charging points for e-bikes, lighting to an otherwise poorly lit area of a site and charging facilities for bicycle lights and tyre pumps. For a relatively small uplift in costs, structures that would be built anyway could serve a dual purpose. SPECIFIC are engaged in a project with Transport for Wales to ‘activate’ shelters for waiting areas, by incorporating PV roofs, which power LED lighting, potentially heated seats and provide USB charging points. These will be particularly attractive for remote stations with little facilities other than sheltered seating areas.
When designing and specifying materials for external landscaping schemes, I urge designers to think about the opportunity landscaping provides for additional energy generation.
I will include some examples of renewable energy generation on a site-wide basis in my Active Building Design Guide.
I would also love to see less hard surfaces around buildings and the deployment of more green infrastructure measures. On Swansea University’s bay campus there are many green spaces, which are left as natural wildflower areas to encourage biodiversity. You will also see several insect hotels and even beehives. As designers we should aim to leave construction sites as ‘green’ or ‘greener’ than they were before the site was developed.
Some of the benefits of green spaces and infrastructure include:
- providing attractive places
- enhancing built environments
- encouraging biodiversity
- supporting people’s mental and physical health
- encouraging active travel
- cooling urban areas during heat waves
- attracting investment
- reducing water run-off during flash flooding
- providing carbon storage
- providing sustainable drainage
The Town and Country Planning Association have resources to aid the design of green infrastructure – click here for links.