Tower of power: a new office building will be entirely covered with solar panels in an Australian first | Solar energy


Australia’s first office tower with a ‘solar skin’ is set to be built next year at a historic time for the construction industry and decarbonisation efforts.

The eight-storey building at 550-558 Spencer Street in West Melbourne will cost $40 million and was designed by architectural firm Kennon on behalf of Dr Bella Freeman.

It will be covered with 1,182 solar panels the same thickness as an ordinary glass facade.

The system – called Skala – is made by German company Avancis and relies on a “thin-film PV module” installed on top of a network that channels the generated electricity to the main power supply of the building.

It is capable of producing 50 times the energy of an average rooftop photovoltaic solar panel used in residential housing and will eliminate 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

When completed, the system will provide nearly enough energy to cover the building’s energy needs. With the addition of additional panels on the roof, the building should have virtually no ongoing electricity costs and will be carbon neutral after a few years.

The design beats a similar project by pension company Cbus, which has plans for a 49-storey office tower at 435 Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD, which is expected to cost $1 billion.

A facade of solar panels will supply 20% of the building’s electricity when it is completed in 2026.

Because construction relies on heavy machinery, transportation, and manufacturing processes powered by fossil fuels, many buildings start out with a large carbon footprint, called “embedded carbon.”

The building sector represents 39% of CO2 global emissions. According to the World Green Building Council, cement production contributes 7% of all global emissions, while steel production is responsible for 7-9% of emissions.

The architect, Pete Kennon, said the Spencer Street building would pay off its carbon debt and “be effectively carbon neutral”, without relying on offsets and other accounting measures.

“These things are possible and the fact that a building can harness sunlight from its own skin – it sounds like something you’ve dreamed of or seen in a cartoon,” Kennon said.

Kennon, 34, started researching sunscreen skincare products in 2019 when he heard about the German company. Although he had been involved in projects in Europe, there had been no work to bring the product to Australia.

“Australia has one of the strictest, if not the strictest building codes in the world,” he said. “And given all the recent history of flammable facades, it’s – pardon the pun – a very hot topic, so there’s a huge amount of due diligence that needs to be done to come up with a product like this. “

The solar skin undergoes a final round of testing before it can be approved, at which time the technology would be available for use in other buildings.

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A building appeal board decision issued on April 7 concluded that construction of the building could proceed and that “the use of photovoltaic panels on the building […] meets performance requirements.

“We didn’t invent the product, but we invented how it can come to our country, and our country is such a huge market because of access to sunlight,” Kennon said.

“I can’t believe this hasn’t already been done.”


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