Solar Inspiration in the Rocky Mountain region

Work in Maine beckons, so I’m packing up the bio-bus, the dog and the cat (and a car that can maneuver in snow.) My departure checklist includes a stop at MEIZ Development’s contemporary homes going up in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. The homes are equipped with solar photovoltaics. The panels, installed by Sun Electric Systems are Kyoceras that run vertically along the southern side of the homes and also serve as awnings. I’ve written previously about MEIZ and Sun Electric, and their plans for solar at 43 Russian. It is satisfying personal closure to see the panels on these beautiful homes ready for their new owners. They look great! (To see drawings of the project, go to Projects/In Construction.) 43 Russia just missed the Tour of Solar Homes going on this weekend in Boulder and Denver, but next year, they will be the star of the tour!

Sun Electric and MEIZ are raising the “home performance bar” in the Rocky Mountain region and both draw from resources outside the area. Mark Meiser, owner of MEIZ, was turned on to solar after seeing an article in Dwell magazine about a solar installation on a contemporary home in California. Sun Electric has brought ideas back from Europe. It sent a few of its staff to Freiburg, Germany this summer, attracted by the new solar energy applications at Intersolar2006, the world’s largest trade show in solar technology.

Europe and Japan are the leaders in solar technologies, and in Southern Germany alone, there are more solar systems than in the entire United States. New and improved solar technologies, though, are not as widely known – or used – here. That’s why the MEIZ project is an exciting addition to this area (we’re not California, not yet, not by a long shot!)

Ratepayer-financed rebates now offered through utilities have led to increased interest in solar in Colorado. Leslie Glustrom of the Colorado Solar Electric Industry Association (COSEIA) says that “the solar industry is growing dramatically. We have abundant solar in this state.”

“That’s why we went to Europe,” says Sun Electric president, Jim Welch. “We wanted to see the latest technologies and to bring them back to the States, so we can better serve our customers.”

Solar photovoltaics, solar panels that generate electricity from the sun, traditionally use one side of the panel to turn sunshine into electrons. On display in Germany were solar photovoltaics that produce electricity from both sides of the solar panel and a glass that produces both light and electricity.

Solar photovoltaics serve a dual purpose in buildings, too. Called architectural integration, or built-in photovolotaics (BIPV), it’s the new vernacular in the building industry. Germany is using it to spur solar installations. There, utilities pay more for electricity fed back to the utility’s grid where the solar is architecturally-integrated.

Sun Electric, a Colorado-based engineering and solar systems integrator with offices across the state, anticipates these new solar technologies will become more widely recognized and that demand for them will grow here in Colorado.

“We’re working with architects.” says Welch, “They want the dual functionality of solar panels – like an awning that’s also a solar panel, or a panel that doubles as a carport or is some other kind of shelter or shading. They’re creating a whole new look. We’re already applying what we learned. We have some carport canopies in place and the glassing systems that produce both light and electricity. We have designed several awning systems, and in Sunnyside neighborhood in north Denver, our first wall-integrated solar system.” (That would be the MEIZ project!)

Other new technologies at Germany’s Intersolar2006 solar trade show included awnings that can generate electricity and also generate heat but look identical, and roofing that seamlessly integrates photovoltaics.

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