How The University Of Washington Is Going Green

Life Sciences Building, Curtain Wall Photovoltaic Fins Project: An Onyx Solar Case Study

Belnor Engineering
Sep 18 · 3 min read

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington is getting ready to soon open a spectacular, modern research and instructional space, the Life Sciences Building (LSB), which will provide students with over 170,000 square feet of open and flexible lab space to boost a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to research in the field of biology.

The building has been designed by architects Perkins + Will, and is a seven-story construction — including two stories below grade, which has been envisioned as a benchmark project in terms of energy efficiency, innovation, and onsite renewable energy.

The design targets LEED-NC Platinum Certification, and the deployment and usage of clean energy sources were the primary objectives of the University´s Climate Action Plan for Sustainability.

In this sense, the UW-Solar student group, which consists of an interdisciplinary team within the University’s Urban Infrastructure Laboratory — ranging from undergraduate to Ph.D. level students, worked with Perkins + Will to design and install a combined 100 kW solar system, featuring an innovative vertical photovoltaic fin system installed on the South-West elevation of the building.

These PV fins are the first-of-its-kind in the USA and are made of amorphous silicon solar cells that capture the sunlight and converts it into clean electricity. They are all-glass, semi-transparent, letting 20% visible light to pass through the fin.

Each fin consists of a three-ply laminated, tempered glass, and it offers 3.15 Watts per square foot. They are frameless and were installed vertically, perpendicularly (i.e. at a 90-degree angle) to the curtain wall. Concealed junction boxes and wires do perfect the architectural design.

Both the fin´s depth and the horizontal distance from fin to fin was carefully analyzed by Perkins + Will and Onyx Solar, to optimize the performance of the system and help to prevent self-shading situations that could impact the output.

The PV fins were tested to UL standards and they are set to start generating power as soon as the electrical interconnection is completed. The lobby of the building will feature a dashboard that will let students and visitors learn from the system, and monitor the energy production in real-time. They will be able to compare the building’s energy demand against renewable energy sources onsite and explore the model.

The photovoltaic fins are highly visible from Pacific Avenue, which will help to raise student and visitor awareness about sustainability and innovation.

Thanks to the installation of building integrated photovoltaic solutions, Onyx Solar’s solar glass modules has led to the facility reducing 18% of its HVAC demand, with a 35% internal rate of return and a payback period of less than two years.

The flexibility in customization inherent in this ground-breaking technology has enabled this world-class facility to achieve the highest sustainability standards internationally. Yours could be next.


This post was brought to you by Belnor Engineering.

Belnor Engineering is the official multiple consecutive award-winning distributor of Phoenix Controls, Onyx Solar, and other innovative architectural products. We specialize in laboaratory and building controls, HVAC systems, and renewable energy architectural solutions — building green cities one green building at a time. For more information, contact us.

Belnor Engineering

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