As concern grows regarding the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming, solar energy is an increasingly attractive power source due to its zero emissions and infinite supply. As builders turn to incorporate solar energy systems into their projects, many options are available to harness the power of the sun for commercial and industrial installations. While AEC Daily’s course on “The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly” of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems might not be a 1960s spaghetti western, it will guide you through the wild west of installation processes and options.
North American rooftops offer billions of square feet of surface area to install photovoltaic systems, eliminating the need to acquire additional real estate to build an energy-generating facility. As major retailers have discovered, rooftop solar systems leverage unused space. Producing renewable energy onsite offers benefits such as reducing carbon emissions and local air pollution. Solar energy systems can also assist projects that seek certification in green building programs, such as Green Globes ® and LEED ®.
Solar power also offers many financial benefits. Its overall cost is falling and, in many areas, has reached the level of traditional energy sources. It is less susceptible to volatile energy prices, which will provide future savings, and it is eligible for a variety of tax and renewable energy credits, as well as other incentives.
Careful planning of both the roofing system and the solar installation is critical to the success of any rooftop solar photovoltaic system. Installations must factor in a variety of environmental impacts, from fire and seismic activity to simply high winds. A lack of consideration could lead to catastrophic damage to the building and beyond. The roof surface must also be able to withstand use as a construction platform after installation.
The permit process for these systems is complex and challenging. Plenty of proof of compliance with codes and standards must be given to local building departments, as well as demonstrating that the building can handle the added structural load.
Working closely with contractors and the system provider will help develop a comprehensive data package which includes analysis of environmental impacts and structural strength.
The AEC Daily course takes an in-depth look at the pros and cons of the four main mounting system options:
- Structurally attached (lightweight, ideal for structures that cannot bear heavy loads)
- Ballasted (the most common, relying on friction to resist sliding, does not require attachments)
- Hybrid (used for newer projects, uses a mix of ballast and attachments)
- Membrane-integrated (state-of-the-art, forms an integrated single system)
You will also learn the basics of solar photovoltaic cell composition, what manufacturer warranties do and don’t cover, and at what age a roof may not be suitable for a system. For more information about this course, click here.
The basis for this article is a continuing education course sponsored by Sika. This course is managed and maintained by AEC Daily, one of the world's largest sources of FREE continuing education for architects, engineers, and construction professionals. Note: You will need an AEC Daily user account to access the full course and earn CE credit.