architecture energy technology

Building of the week: the solar PV greenhouse

I’ve featured greenhouses before in my building of the week posts, including the passive solar greenhouses that are common in China. Here’s an other form of solar greenhouse, produced by a Cambridge-based company called PolySolar.


At first glance it is indistinguishable from a traditional British greenhouse. That unfortunately includes all the usual design flaws that make it an inefficient structure, such as glass on all four sides, and nothing to give the building thermal mass. So it’s not the design that’s of interest here, but the materials. This particular greenhouse was the first in the world to include transparent solar panels.

That’s the orange tinted glass on the roof. PolySolar’s first steps into transparent solar panels were all orange tinted. (Spotting their brand colour and a PR opportunity, Sainsbury’s commissioned canopies for a couple of their service stations). The second generation of PolySolar’s transparent panels are grey-tinted and have been used on building facades, skylights and bus-stops. The quest for complete transparency is ongoing, and requires a different technology.

Putting transparent solar on a greenhouse doesn’t significantly affect its performance, and the building will already be positioned and oriented for maximum sunlight. For those who can’t put solar panels on their roof, it’s a valuable alternative. It’s also a technology to add to the list of invisible forms of renewable energy.

I suspect this greenhouse is a forerunner of future construction. At the moment fully transparent solar panels are experimental and expensive, but that will change. It is only a matter of time before solar glass will be a standard building material, and the BBC won’t feel the need to report on someone getting a new greenhouse:

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