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An office tower with 'solar skin' to save 77 tons of CO2 each year

The building will supply almost all its own electricity.

An office tower with 'solar skin' to save 77 tons of CO2 each year
A rendering of the Spencer Street building. Kennon

At 550-558 Spencer Street in West Melbourne, Australia, an eight-story building will be the country's first office tower with a "solar skin," marking a watershed moment for the construction industry.

The $40-million office tower will be outfitted with 1,182 solar panels the thickness of a regular glass facade.

And when complete, the array will provide enough power to meet practically all of the building’s energy needs, with almost no ongoing power costs. The building will also be carbon-neutral in a few years, serving as a shining example of the prospects for decarbonizing the construction industry.

How does the 'solar skin' technology work? 

Crema Constructions is currently building the project, designed by Melbourne-based architect Pete Kennon and scheduled to open in mid-2023. The brilliant Skala solar-skin system is manufactured by the German company Avancis.

Skala uses a "thin-film PV module" atop a network that transfers the electricity generated into the building's main power supply. According to The Guardian, it can generate 50 times the energy of a typical rooftop photovoltaic solar array used in residential homes.

Once completed, the system will provide nearly enough power to meet the whole building’s energy needs while saving 77 tons of CO2 each year. And with the addition of additional roof panels, the solar-skin building is planned to have nearly no ongoing power expenditures and will be carbon-neutral in a few years.

A carbon-neutral building that doesn't rely on offsets

The design of the Spencer Street building was driven by the idea of sustainable construction methods and a sustainable future in the built environment. 

Kennon told The Guardian that the Spencer Street building would pay off its carbon debt without depending on offsets or other accounting measures. “These things are possible, and the fact a building can harness the sunlight from its own skin – it sounds like something you dreamed of, or you saw in a cartoon,” Kennon explained.

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Although Australia is a leading power in solar, panels clad on a tower have not been used in the country before. This is why this project will help set a new benchmark for quality, as solar skins undergo one final round of testing before they can be approved for use on other buildings.

Solar buildings around the world

For Europe, however, office towers clad in solar panels are not a new thing. For example, an office tower on Miller Street in Manchester, England, is completely covered in solar panels and has been at work generating energy for years. 

On the other side of the world, there is also the Sun Rock project in Taiwan, which plans to build a building covered in solar panels that can generate roughly 1 million kWh of energy.

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Meanwhile, other sustainable technologies involving transparent solar panels are at work, which could enable us to generate electricity from windows in offices, homes, car sunroofs, or even smartphones.

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