architecture design

Building of the week: solar canopies

Reading Bill Dunster’s book ZedLife recently, I was struck by how often Zed Factory‘s designs incorporated canopies. They regularly cover the gaps between buildings, streets and walkways with glass and solar roofs. On larger developments, this multiplies the space for fitting solar panels, so that buildings can produce more of their own power. In some cases it keeps the roof of the buildings free for rooftop gardens. And of course, it adds value to the space between the buildings. As sheltered public spaces, they become a venue for markets, performances, or cafe seating.

Zed Factory aren’t the only ones who see the potential. Provided a canopy can be erected cheaply, there are many places where solar capacity could be added where it is needed, while providing shelter from the rain or the sun.

For example, Legoland Florida built a solar canopy over the top of its car park. It keeps the cars cool under the Florida sun, and provides enough electricity to run the park’s 152 room hotel. You couldn’t fit that many panels on the hotel itself, needless to say, and that’s true of supermarkets and retail parks and many other buildings with large car parks out the front. As the cost of large scale solar PV continues to fall, I expect we’ll see more of them cropping up.

As Dunster suggests, there’s a place for these in retrofitting too. I particularly like the idea of doing installing them in city centres. A canopy right across a pedestrianised street would make it into a sheltered precinct, improving the public space at the same time as generating power.

If shoppers could come and go in all weather, it would improve the fortunes of the shops along the street too, potentially playing a role in regeneration. I was walking through Wrexham town centre with my dad last week, which is full of empty shops. Much of that is bad planning, with new shopping areas built on the fringes, but I wonder if life could be breathed back into some of those areas with a solar canopy.

There are smaller applications too, including rain shelters and bus stops, and domestic versions such as solar verandahs or carports. If your own roof isn’t oriented quite right for solar PV,  perhaps a solar canopy is the way to go instead.

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