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Powerful fabric

Exteriors, Features | April 1, 2015 | By:

0415_cs_1Tensile structure featuring photovoltaics creates positive energy for carpark.

The Solar Cloth Company, based in Cambridge, UK, has developed a unique architectural solution for tensile structures that combines visually striking design with high-yield Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). These “tensile photovoltaics” are flexible solar modules bonded onto lightweight structural fabrics to make positive energy structures.

In November 2014, the company won BIPV Innovation of the Year for its design and construction of the world’s first commercially operating flexible solar carport.

The Solar Cloth Company founder Perry Carroll described the design challenges of the structure: “We were approached by the client who wanted his business park to have a visually striking presence that blended the industrial setting with an adjacent nature reserve. The client also wanted to communicate the low-carbon impact of the business park’s office buildings. A tensile fabric structure was the obvious choice, while oversizing the supporting structure delivered the aesthetic of presence and security.”

The fabric cutting and form design was done by BASE Structures of Bristol UK. The Solor Cloth Company bonded cutting-edge lightweight photovoltaic modules onto Serge Ferrari tensile fabric to create a form-fitting power-generating layer. The project was full of surprises from unmarked services to discovering that birds prefer not to land on tensile fabrics.

0415_cs_2Dominic Moore, director of Clearbell Capital LLP, which owns the site, stated: “We love the product. I think it was well worthwhile to install such striking car-parking structures. Sometimes it is not about the financials but about the beauty and simplicity of the idea and the belief and commitment to green energy.”

The flexible solar carport includes integrated guttering, a water management system and an EV charger point, all allied to the low-maintenance, high-efficiency photovoltaic modules that feature guaranteed power output for 20 years. This project demonstrates the high quality results that can be achieved with cutting-edge materials.

“One of the main hindrances to solar panel adoption is that they can be difficult to install and integrate with existing architecture functionally and aesthetically,” stated professor Hans Haenlein MBE Dip Arch RIBA FRSA, and a member of The Solar Cloth Company’s advisory board. “Flexible solar cloth overcomes all of these problems and can add real value to existing and upcoming sites.”

0415_cs_3The Solar Cloth Company says that the solar fabric can be integrated into a wide range of tensile structures, both big and small, or laid onto rigid structures. The positive energy fabric weighs 3kg/m^2 and generates 100W/m^2 of electricity.

The company will be running “tensile photovoltaics” workshops in summer 2015 aimed at designers, architects and engineers.

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