New study finds professional architects face obstacles in employing solar strategies

Solar energy can be harnessed to both heat and power buildings — so why isn’t it specified more often in building design? The International Energy Agency’s Solar Heating and Cooling (IEA-SHC) Programme’s Task 41: Solar Energy and Architecture,  a research project that involves 70 researchers, academics, professionals and graduate students from 15 countries, is seeking to answer this question. 

IEA-SHC Task 41’s Team Canada is led by Professor Miljana Horvat of the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University and Professor Marie-Claude Dubois of the École d’Architecture at Université Laval. The research team is made up of faculty and students from the Department of Architectural Science at Ryerson University, École d’Architecture at Université Laval and the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Concordia University. This research revealed that while architects believe solar energy to be an increasingly viable option, many face significant obstacles that hinder them from incorporating this renewable energy resource into building designs.

“While barriers exist, we’re still finding that architects are interested in making a difference by integrating solar strategies into their designs,” Horvat says.

The ultimate goals of the three-year IEA-SHC Task 41 are to achieve high quality architecture that utilizes active and passive solar strategies, and to improve the qualifications of architects in implementing solar strategies, including their interactions with engineers, manufacturers and clients. International researchers are working to develop criteria for architectural integration of solar energy systems; identify methods and tools for solar design; and establish concepts, guidelines and case studies.

Team Canada’s research included a survey of architects from 14 different countries that has yielded important insights into how to improve digital tools for solar design to make it easier for architects to integrate both passive and active solar energy strategies during the early design stage.  They also found that better training, for example, would help many architects improve their skills in working with solar and energy simulation tools and address the perception that these tools are too complex, expensive and time-consuming. 

To date the IEA-SHC Task 41 teams have completed a total of five reports and conference papers that identify existing barriers to implementing solar energy and the knowledge required for architects, engineers, manufacturers and developers to integrate solar strategies into building design.

“It’s important to conduct research like this, because we know that up to 80 per cent of design decisions that can influence buildings’ energy performance are made at the early design stage,” Horvat says. “Now, the question is, do architects have the right tools to make those decisions?”

The work of Team Canada will continue to develop guidelines to overcome these barriers and facilitate the implementation of solar technologies and strategies in buildings from the early design stage.

Three Ryerson University students, Alissa Laporte, a fourth-year Architectural Science student, and Michael Clesle and Viktor Kuslikis, recent graduates of the master of architecture program, were members of Team Canada. Clesle and Kuslikis had their own solar architectural design projects selected at a recent IEA-SHC program experts* meeting in Graz, Austria, which sought superior examples of built structures and conceptual designs worldwide. The projects will be included in a publication of innovative and inspirational solar architecture case studies.

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