Taking PV to new places

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"What this is about is building on our expertise in photovoltaics," project leader Alistair Sproul explained to pv magazine. "It takes it and links it across to other work that is being done in the area of solar architecture and low-carbon materials."

"We’re looking at energy in its broadest possible context," he continued, "renewable energy, energy efficiency in relation to buildings and not just individual buildings but precincts, cities and that sort of scale."

One part of the research is investigating how solar-thermal technology can be integrated in solar photovoltaics and then in turn into building design. Sproul elaborated: "There is an opportunity here to look at it and say if the cost of the photovoltaic module on its own is coming down, if we can add in hybrid photovoltaic thermal systems and add in day lighting, shading, without increasing the cost too greatly, you get multiple benefits."

The UNSW team is also looking at human and societal factors that may be holding back the wider application of photovoltaics. There may be percpetual, political or regulatory impediments to photovoltaic growth and the research hopes to formulate strategies to confront and overcome them.

In keeping with this aim, the CRC for Low-Carbon Living is partnering with Australian and international construction company Brookfield Multiplex. Both the company and the researchers hope to be able to encourage the take-up of photovoltaic products more widely as a part of the construction process.

Brookfield Multiplex also built of the CRC’s new building on the UNSW campus, which, Sproul said, is a "living laboratory" for some of the techniques and technologies the team is developing. "As this building was being built we were commenting on design issues and a fair proportion of what we would like to see in a ‘green building’ has been incorporated into this building," Sproul told pv magazine. "So it’s a whole test-bed and now that we’re in the building, we can start to look at the performance of the building and critically access its performance."

The potential project timeframe is seven years, dependent on the project meeting Australian Commonwealth Government funding requirements. Sproul added however that he imagines the research in this field continuing indefinitely: "We don’t believe that this [climate change] is a problem that is going to be solved in seven years, but we think this is the start of something good and we want to keep in going."