Story highlights Climate experts weigh in on the benefits of a solar reflective wall
Sometimes, nature just needs our help to help herself
While some companies have experimented with using plants to reflect sunlight onto a wall, it’s one of the few costs-effective methods to offset a building’s carbon footprint.
In places like India, the benefits of reflecting sunlight with plants on a building’s side walls can be significant. The average window would initially take in only about 2 or 3 percent of the sun’s energy during the summer — but then those solar panels created by well-placed plants would effectively capture that energy, which is then saved and used for plants. In addition, it cuts down on the buildup of heat in the building’s interior during the summer.
This summer, Inhofe and his team at Arizona State University are rolling out a sustainable solution: A solar reflective wall, which captures solar power from the sun and uses it to power plants.
By using a strong-bonded plastic board with the reflective effectiveness of glass, the team is able to project the added energy outside onto the wall (the glow isn’t really visible to the naked eye).
“Our company has been using the concept of ‘reflective surfacing’ for the past 12 years,” says Khwaja Naveed Khan, an architect for Naveed Construction, who designed the walls for the Energy to Feed, a plant in India, called the Cumin, which is growing out of the panels.
The wall of the Cumin is made up of three layers: a solid sheet of perforated epoxy resin sandwiched between a clear acrylic film, which extends to the back of the panels. Finally, there’s a layer of clear acrylic applied to the top that acts as a thermoplastics substrate, acting as a barrier between the epoxy resin and the direct sunlight.
The panels reduce heat buildup in the building. The 2,000-square-foot Cumin plant in India not only employs 200,000 vegetables per year, but these sun-reflecting walls have positively impacted the energy consumed during the summer in the complex, Khan adds.
He says, however, that his team had a problem — namely, finding enough concrete for the polymer material. The plastic reinforced with concrete almost always needs to be sandblasted before being installed. Additionally, the building team initially installed a layer of concrete between the epoxy resin and epoxy film before the silver waterproof coating was applied. “We never intended for a layer of concrete,” he adds.
“The problem was the epoxy application itself was too easy and took much longer than it should have,” says Camilla Moore, an architect with Justin Moore & Partners, Inc. in Los Angeles.
The slimmer, better-performing technique of using topcoat surfaces instead of concrete is a more sustainable and sustainable option for designers and architects across the nation, says Moore.
“The city of Los Angeles purchased approximately 12,000 foot-long aluminum sheet board solar reflective panels to provide solar energy to the seventh and eighth floor of a building owned by KTLA-TV, an operator of local television networks,” she says. The concrete used in the construction of the roof for the concrete walls was then used to provide additional impact on the part of the building.
Moore estimates that this redesign for the roof of the building alone would have saved at least $5,000 a year in energy costs since the solar reflective panels would generate the exact amount of energy without the additional cost of the concrete, which helped heat up the air.
“Solar paneling has shown a distinct advantage in reducing heat loads for solar water heaters, thereby reducing electricity usage in a building or for the electric grid,” she says. “Solar paneling absorbs all excess ambient heat so energy needs to be re-compressed and re-wound back to the air conditioning system.”
But while it’s a cost-effective means of making the greenhouse effect work, it can’t save everyone.
“This particular project in southern India was somewhat difficult because the sun still takes off and leaves the north overcast,” Khan says. “The problem is how to maximize the temperature gain. In the summers, as the sun’s angle goes lower you use more water heating so the pattern can sometimes be dictated by the seasons. The Indian summers have quite a short sun-spots cycle.”
Learn more about this summer’s projects at Inhofe Nature Lab »
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