Vitality and buildings – New know-how lights the way in which

Energy and buildings – New technology lights the way

Energy and how we use it is central to the story of how we should be designing our buildings. In fact, it should also be central to our way of life.

Buildings are energy hogs

Let’s be honest here – buildings consume a large quantity of energy. In Australia, according to Science Direct, buildings account for 20 percent of the total measured energy consumption. The big picture suggests that globally, commercial and residential buildings combined account for about 40 percent of all energy consumption.

No wonder then that products continue to come to market that help defray the economic and environmental impact. And starting at the top, collecting solar energy from rooftops while not a new concept, is an evolving yet integral market.

Consumers have previously found the glass photovoltaic rooftop collectors an eyesore, an ugly accessory plonked on top of otherwise architecturally attractive buildings. Add to that their reputation as fragile (whether well-founded or not) formed a second barrier to take-up, with high cost being the final straw that kept many builders away from an important energy source.

Integration is the key

The development of the far subtler, building-integrated photovoltaic products such as the Monier solar roofing range addresses all of those objections, while fulfilling its major role, that is, collecting energy.

Monier has partnered with Bradford to create inline solar, where the panels are integrated into rooflines. Compatible with concrete and terracotta roof designs that also offer intelligent monitoring of performance in real time – yes, the roof can talk to you.

Monier has partnered with Bradford to create inline solar, where the panels are integrated into rooflines. 

According to Monier, the tiles have full battery compatibility with Tesla Powerwall 2 that also allows users to take the power of the solar roof further, thereby, as the company says, “maximizing your return on a solar roofing investment.”

The integrated panels have been engineered to create a stylish low profile look that is made to blend perfectly with a roofline, as well as remaining strong and watertight.

No solar conversation is complete without a mention of Tesla, and yes, they too have a photovoltaic roof tile and though available in the United States, they are considerably harder to source in Australia.

They are also newer to the market, and perhaps more suited to the commercial arena given the greater area of things such as solar facades, along with building curtains optimising their dynamic solar harvest potential.

Solar windows, or power windows as they are sometimes called will surely soon become a popular eco-sensitive product, in both residential and commercial design.

A large player in the take-up of commercial solar products is the Vicinity Centres Group, which has committed to $73 million of investment in shopping centre solar – the largest project of its kind in Australia – across 22 centres with a total capacity of 31 megawatts.

The groups’ use of rooftop solar across their parking structure acreage has been enormously successful and popular.

They recently ventured into new ground by partnering with the Australian tech firm ClearVue Technologies to launch a global first trial of a clear solar glass structure installed at their Warwick Grove shopping Centre in Western Australia.

The property’s existing glass atrium was replaced by a new structure that used the ClearVue photovoltaic glass, which collects infra-red light and deflects it to the surface edge where it is converted to electricity.

Vicinity Centres executive general manager, Shopping Centre Management Justin Mills, says “We’re excited to be trialling such innovative, leading-edge technology and embarking on a global first in solar energy application.

Solar panels are not windows-or are they?

“Solar panels,” says ClearVue’s Victor Rosenberg, “are not windows. Our PV glass are windows that can be used anywhere, in any building where windows are used.”

With growing urbanization, the energy real estate offered by ‘glass’ energy harvesting seems an obvious product line to pursue.

ClearVue photovoltaic glass, which collects infra-red light and deflects it to the surface edge where it is converted to electricity.

ClearVue photovoltaic glass collects infra-red light and deflects it to the surface edge where it is converted to electricity.

According to the company, this patented technology allows visible light to pass through a pane of glass, while the invisible wavelengths of light are deflected to the edges of the glass where they are converted into electricity.

“ClearVue PV technology can transform a glass building into a massive solar panel, generating power where it’s needed, reducing power transmission requirements across large distances. Our technology is cost effective, environmentally friendly, and provides a sustainable and innovative new power generation capacity,” the company says.

The best new technologies also offer flexibility – ClearVue PV says that its products also have the potential to add efficiency to automobiles, public transport, agriculture and mobile electronic devices

What about the waste caused by products that work too well or the excess energy harvested by the homes and buildings? Feeding back to the grid, while an admirable concept, however, does not allow consumers to easily (or reliably) access the power when needed during peak times, and to an extent voids financial savings.

Which is why battery technology is literally the ‘missing link’ in this ‘renewable renaissance’.

Home power walls

Batteries for both cars and houses have become ecologically-approved purchases and the range available has increased accordingly though the name uppermost in customer’s minds is still of course, Tesla.

According to the home and car battery maker, “Powerwall is a home battery system that turns your home’s solar panels into an all-day resource – increasing self-consumption of solar – while also offering backup in the event of an outage.”

“Powerwall enables more of your home’s electricity use to come from solar, which enhances solar functionality and reduce energy costs.”

Tesla has made charging stations and batteries look almost seductive and branding the residential batteries as ‘power walls’ was a brilliant piece of marketing that somehow brought the utilitarian device a sort of tantalizing reputation that government departments (and other dreary products) dream about.

But of course, they are not the only players in the battery field with Samsung, Sony and Pylontech brands in the same league.

It’s a complicated field to delve into. There are off and on-grid batteries, and the inverter/charger add-ons make it no easier to grasp and compare.

Put in the simplest of terms, in residential design, the heart of an off-grid AC system is the battery inverter/charger. It must reliably meet the power requirements of the appliances under all conditions, while monitoring the charging and energy flow.

The market is of course expanding, and the technology is shifting fast. The investment for purchasers is high and the lifespan of the batteries is variable. The overall message here is research is paramount when delving into the battery product line.

An independent survey was commissioned in 2016, situated in the calculating corridors of Canberra, with an aim to quantify efficiency and reliability of the product. The test ran for three years and compared 18 brands of solar batteries. According to Choice Magazine, some batteries failed to actually make it past the finishing post, but (and here’s the good news) -many met and some even exceeded marketing claims.

For the record, Tesla’s Powerwall, along with Samsung, Sony, BYD and Pylontech all received good reviews from the test.

A community of batteries

As we all know, if you can create large enough demand, products and processes will be developed to answer the call. Enter community batteries.

This is the new road to sustainable power for suburbs and urban developments both old and brand new.  Community batteries are a battery solution that allows subscribers to use all the clean energy they generate with their own solar harvesting device, and store excess energy in a very large, communal battery that sits down the road, or on the oval or at a street corner – without needing to own or maintain an expensive battery system.

Of course, this plan has to be developed in consultation and collaboration with local councils.

Although not yet widely available, Western Power in WA is currently testing the system at 11 sites across the state.

 “Absolutely everyone is excited by it” says Western Energy’s Paul Entwhistle. “The best part is that it can be retrofitted to existing suburbs, as well as being incorporated into future developments.”

In this format, the size of the storage allows for the collected energy to be great enough that it powers not only homes but can be expanded to street lighting. They are hoping in the not too distant future to incorporate and expand their power offering to street lighting that is time reflective; using IoT to lower luminosity savings during low traffic periods. Saving both money and power for the household clusters. The incentives are clear and could only be an added incentive for solar power take up.

Ausgrid is hoping to get its first community battery operating by 2021 and suggests the possibility that future members of community batteries may be able to trade their excess kilowatts.

Residential savings at this early stage are said to be between $200 and $500 per annum.

“Australian households invested in almost two-and-a-half “Big Batteries” worth of home energy storage in 2019, installing 22,661 systems over the course of the year with a total capacity of 233MWh, and taking further control over their energy supply.” As reported in the 2020 Australia Battery Market Report, “1 in 13 Australian solar households also have battery storage, or 7.9 percent.”

Once installed, the battery and a connected home energy monitor coordinate charge and discharge around rooftop solar production and electricity rates. In the case of an outage, the battery can still power devices that are plugged into it.

“Orison’s consumer-scale modular batteries are designed to make energy storage accessible and affordable to all energy customers, including renters in apartments and multi-family dwellings, while empowering customers, improving grid resilience and accelerating a smarter energy future,” a statement said.

“Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way we produce and use power, allowing electrification of the transport sector,” says Stranks.

Lighting as art and environmental saviour

Flexible LEDs these days are more like art than lighting.

“It’s been proven than a person over 60 needs 4 times the amount of light to read than a teenager …and we have an awful lot more people over 60 these days. You need colour change, but also intensity change in lights,” according to Trend Lighting’s Nicholas Spyrakis.

“Most retailers pump a lot of light out. Consumers respond to different light levels”

“Lighting is a vital part of successful retail experience – the light sets the tone, the atmosphere before a customer even steps inside,” says Spyrakis.

“Look at Apple stores for example, and when you do, you see that the retail store is not where most of the buying happens. But the branding, the feeling, is what the store customers take away – and then buy online.”

“They are branded to be cultural hubs,” Spyrakis says.

According to Sam Stranks, lecturer in Energy and Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Cambridge and a co-founder of Swift Solar, Inc., “The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded.”

“A standard 50-Watt halogen downlight globe can now be replaced with a 7 Watt LED, equating to an 86 percent savings,” says Alison Pike from Gineico Lighting, adding that, “A standard halogen globe lasts between 2,000-10,000 hours whereas an LED equivalent last 25,000-50,000 hours.”

According to Pierlite, when it comes to energy savings, it’s not just about the LEDs, but also the sensors they use.

“There is high and increasing interest in sensors that not only switch the lights on and off when they sense no occupancy in an area, they can also ramp up and down depending on the daylight in that area. This means the lighting and maintenance costs go down due to less kilowatt hours required,” says Karlie Meredith, head of Marketing, Pierlite Australia.

“Internet of Things (IOT) sensor solutions such as our own Pierlite Connect solution, give building owners enhanced visibility on their investment by tracking people and assets. These sorts of enterprise management systems that deliver value to commercial real estate by creating intelligent environments which are: more sustainable by minimising energy consumption, more valuable as property if efficiently utilised and more productive because people perform better in an optimal environment,” says Meredith.

In terms of actual savings, the company’s electrical engineer Sid Gaurav says, “With the new National Construction Code (NCC) Section J6 updates, sensors have become even more compelling from an energy efficiency and compliance prospective”  

For a typical motion and daylight sensor, the energy savings can only be estimated as the savings are typically based on human activity or day light presence, notes Gaurav.


No Sensor (Traditional batten VS LED batten)





Total KW




Traditional Batten







LED Batten














ENERGY SAVINGS                                                                    

Total Energy Savings (Kwh/Year)                                             350 KWH                        

Maximum Demand Reduction                                                0.04     KW                                                                              

Green House Gas Emission Reduction                                   0.373   Tonnes CO2-e                                                                                               

Savings from Power Reduction @ 23cents                            $81                              


Sensor (Traditional Batten vs LED with Sensor)





Total KW




Traditional Batten







LED Batten with Sensor *














ENERGY SAVINGS                                                                    

Total Energy Savings (Kwh/Year)                                             524                        

Maximum Demand Reduction                                                0.06 KW                                                                              

Green House Gas Emission Reduction                                   0.559   Tonnes CO2-e                                                                                               

Savings from Power Reduction @ 23cents                            $121    


*Maximum 40w and Avg estimate 20w for motion and daylight sensor  


Smaller products have big impacts

They call it the ‘engineering evolution of products’, and they do it with style.  While being the worldwide dynamo of vacuuming, the Dyson engineering team has examined their highly successful products and continued to refine and expand on the brand, hence the term ‘evolution’.

At a time when we are spending more and more time in our homes, and concern for our health uppermost in our minds, Dyson comes through with their lean engineering.

According to a Dyson spokesperson, “Highly efficient motors are the key to less energy-hungry products. In 2002, Dyson engineers began to reinvent conventional motors, investing heavily in research and development to make them smaller, lighter and more efficient.”

“The first Dyson digital motor was half the size and weight of conventional motors which are big, traditional, heavy, as well as being faster and lasting up to four times longer. This has been central to the energy reduction we have achieved in our products as well as fundamental changes to the format of our machines.”

Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) might be the answer

BIPVs are actually part of the roofing material and designed to be discreetly integrated with similar-looking non-solar tiles.

They have a number of advantages, including no need to drill holes in the roof to install them, they are not bolted onto the roof, so there’s no extra strain from natural wind flow, much more resistant to cyclonic winds than solar panels, and in strength and impact testing for hail damage, they often perform as well or better than conventional roofing materials.

Although BIPV tiles or solar PVs as they are also known are pricier than solar panels, it’s likely they’ll remain attractive to high-end, architect-designed houses with slate-or ceramic-tiled roofs.

But, as with all technologies, once their scale of production increases the cost usually does fall.

Interestingly, the solar efficiency of solar PVs is the proportion of sunlight energy hitting the tile or panel that’s converted into electricity (the higher the better) and usually sits in a range of 15–20 percent.

The solar PV inverter is a device that converts the variable direct current (DC) output of a solar PV panel or tile into a usable alternating current (AC) that can be used in the home or sent to the electrical grid.

Money-wise, the inverter is usually about 20 percent of the solar system’s cost but varies with quality.

Managing the energy usage in buildings is a multi-layered, multi-faceted and relatively complex issue requiring much research, knowledge and of course, expertise. However, if managed correctly, it can have significant benefits for both homeowners, companies and the environment alike.




ClearVue Technologies


Trend Lighting


Pierlite Australia

Gineico Lighting


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