For a long time, solar energy in the built environment was mainly generated via solar panels on the roofs of homes and offices. But the roof surface alone, especially in high-rise buildings, is insufficient to meet the energy demand. TNO is therefore working with partners to develop technologies that allow solar panels to be attractively or even invisibly integrated into the façades of buildings.

In the Netherlands, there are some 1,600 square kilometres of façade surface available, which means that at least a third of the renewable energy potential of the built environment in 2050 could be on façades.

Aesthetics and sustainability

In the Dutch Solar Design project, TNO has been working in close cooperation with a number of Dutch companies to develop technology that makes solar façades possible. The partners are TSVisuals, specialised in designing and printing large surfaces as in the Rotterdam Market Hall, architectural firm UNStudio, Design Innovation Group and the start-up Solar Visuals, which originated from TNO.

Together, they have been focusing on 'mimic design', the design of solar modules that can be seamlessly integrated into the built environment. Aesthetics and sustainability go hand in hand. The unimaginative façades of old blocks of flats can be transformed into attractive outer walls that generate energy. The installation of these new PV modules during major maintenance and renovation offers for example housing corporations the opportunity to make their housing stock more sustainable.

In the foreseeable future, solar modules in façades must be able to compete on cost price with the most common materials used in construction, in order for houses and buildings to become energy-neutral more quickly.

Solar façades in any size, shape and colour

Concrete house Naarden-Bussum station

At Naarden-Bussum railway station, a concrete house along the track was recently provided with a beautiful historical scene on behalf of ProRail. Special about this is that the image is formed by esthetic solar panels. These panels have a matt front side that decreases the reflection of the panels. In the period ahead, TNO will investigate how the solar panels perform under various conditions.

TNO provided also an example of a possible solar façade in the summer of 2020 in Bunnik, where solar panels were installed on the outer walls of BAM's head office. A brick pattern was chosen for the exterior that seamlessly matches the façade on which these solar panels are mounted.

Wiep Folkerts and Lenneke Slooff (TNO) discuss the importance of this project from the perspective of the climate targets.
Solar panels on the façades of Shell building

Another striking example can be seen on the façade of the Shell Technology Centre building on the IJ river in Amsterdam. Here the panels, which represent the company's ambitions in terms of sustainability, have been mounted in old air intakes. This is a sign of the flexibility of the new generation of solar panels: the possibilities in terms of size, shape and colour are endless.

Glass façades

TNO is also working with partners on solutions to use windows to generate solar energy. Initial tests in the lab are promising. As large buildings are increasingly equipped with glass façades, this application can make a significant contribution to making buildings energy neutral.

Many new applications

The collaboration between TNO's experts, in the fields of energy, materials, electronics and building structures, and these creative companies enables a large number of new applications. The fixed rectangular shape makes way for a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colours and even transparency. While admittedly this reduces the yield, it also means that considerably more surface area in the built environment can now generate solar energy, thus increasing the total amount of energy generated.

Curious to learn more about solar panels in facades?

Please contact Lenneke Slooff-Hoek ›

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Lenneke Slooff–Hoek