Canadian Consulting Engineer

John Molson School of Business

The combined photovoltaic-thermal energy system installed on the facade of the new John Molson School of Business at Concordia University is the first system of its type in the world. Called a buildin...

May 1, 2010   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The combined photovoltaic-thermal energy system installed on the facade of the new John Molson School of Business at Concordia University is the first system of its type in the world. Called a building-integrated photovoltaic/thermal (BIPV/T) system, it combines photovoltaic (PV) and distributed air inlet technology.

The solar panels cover almost 300 square metres across the two top floors of the building at the corner of Ste. Catherine Street and de Maisonneuve Boulevard in downtown Montreal.

The BIPV/T system reaps 100 kW of solar energy– 75 kW thermal, 25 kW electricity. It is expected to have a combined solar efficiency near 60%.

The thermal collector component is a high-efficiency SolarWall by Conserval Engineering of Toronto. It collects the heat that builds up at the back of the photovoltaic modules and directs it to the building’s HVAC ventilation system. On sunny days during winter, the air in the solar collector will be heated to around 20C. If required, the air is further heated for supply to the building spaces.

The collector delivers an added bonus: by drawing off warm air and cooling the photovoltaic panels, it increases the PV panel’s electrical performance by up to 10% on cold sunny days. Cooling also ensures the panels have a low breakage rate.

Furthermore, the thermal collector acts as the mounting rack for the photovoltaic panels. The vertical mounting means the panels capture more of the sun’s energy in the winter. Also, unlike rooftop units, they don’t have a problem with snow accumulation.

The photovoltaic panels — 384 in all — are 65-watt modules custom-designed by Day4 Energy of Burnaby, B.C. They are poly-crystalline modules with conversion efficiencies of 14.7%, and they incorporate a proprietary electrode for interconnecting the solar cells. The electrode consists of a polymer film embedded with thin copper wires coated with a low-melting-point alloy.

Each PV module operates independently, in a “massively parallel” systems approach that allows each to operate at its optimum power point regardless of other modules in the system.

The LEED-registered building opened in the fall of 2009. It has a real-time display of the solar energy system in the lobby. Dr. Andreas Athienitis of Concordia’s Department of Civil Engineering and the NSERC Solar Buildings Research Network (a network of researchers from 10 universities) led the overall design, which also received funding from Natural Resources Canada. The SBRN team is using the monitored data from the Molson building installation to create a computer simulation model for designing future systems.

The project was featured on the Discovery Channel, and it recentlywona 2009RenewableEnergy World Award.

PV-thermal system: Solar Buildings Research Network (lead design); Conserval Engineering (SolarWall); Day4 Energy (photovoltaic modules); Sustainable Energy Technologies (inverters; layout).

Building: Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg/Fichten Soiferman (architects); Nicolet Chartrand Knoll (structural); Groupe HBA (mechanical-electrical)


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