The integration of solar panels into a project always represents somewhat of a challenge. I am aware of how important energy efficiency is – but, as a Landscape Architect, I also appreciate the aesthetic value of a project. We strive very hard to make sure every element and every object is harmonized with the ensemble. And there lies the dilemma: when it comes to working with solar panels in outdoor lighting, you sometimes need to choose either a lower environmental footprint or a better-looking installation.
Bulky, black, shiny boards do not necessarily compliment their surroundings and the objects to which they are matched. Solar energy could benefit from some additional elegance before we really start seeing it used more commonly. However, I have seen a couple of very interesting projects that revived my optimism. In my opinion, they’re inspiring examples of well-done solar panel integration, flowing with the object while still serving their purpose of collecting solar energy.
First, there’s these new bus shelter prototypes designed for the STM (the Montreal Transport Society) by Leblanc + Turcotte + Spooner that collect solar energy to provide clean lighting, which is especially useful for shelters that cannot be connected to the power grid. The panels, made by SolarOne, are seamlessly integrated into the design and they become part of the shelters.
Other examples I appreciate are the Bixi stations (a bicycle rental service) as well as the new parking meters in Montreal, all powered by solar energy, in which the panels are nicely embedded. This, in my opinion, makes all the difference.
Unfortunately, it’s not yet the case when it comes to outdoor lighting. The large solar panels appear to me as scars on the luminaire. Beauty and aesthetics may not be determining criteria for every project, but I know for a fact that solar technology and its multiple benefits have sometimes been rejected because of this.
Flexible panels, for example, could be easier to integrate into various designs, becoming a component of the luminaire. More efficient cells could allow for smaller panels. Smaller and more efficient batteries could be easier to conceal. These points need to be worked on…
I’m looking forward to seeing solar technology evolve as it will allow for more visually appealing projects and it will most definitely help solar energy become more widespread.