Feather&Gill Design Architects

building with photo-voltaics

Green Building Series
Articles for greener living

The concept of “Green Building” is being bantered around as the solution to our energy consumption issues in housing. It now has been introduced as a building code at both the City and State level, here in Santa Fe.

The use of photo-voltaics to produce electricity for in-house consumption has become one of the most prominent solutions discussed. Photo-voltaics is the system that converts sunlight into electricity. This is most often accomplished with the use of large black panels of photocells that are visible on the roofs of buildings. Photo-voltaics are permitted in most areas, but you should check your local area restrictions to ensure these are a viable option for your home. They may be required to be screened from view, which can present a few design challenge issues for your architect. The cost of installing a basic system is typically in the $30-60K range. This cost is recoupable in energy production that is sold to the power company over approximately a 12-15 year period.

The process to sell the electricity produced by the photo-voltaic systems is called net metering. Currently, PNM is buying electricity back from these photo-voltaic systems at the same rate (per kilowatt) as the electricity regularly used and paid by consumers to run their home. This allows your electric bill to be reduced and with enough sunny days and a large enough system you can actually earn money from the electricity produced. What a novel concept…the power company paying you money!

Arguably, one of the downsides to installing a photo-voltaic system is the embodied energy used to create the photocells, which is not accounted for in the 12-15 year payback. Optimizing the usefulness and affordability of these systems is contingent upon research and development to reduce the energy needed to produce the system, and maximizing the energy produced in relation to the initial system cost.

Even with the current downside to these systems, the off-set of contributing to the energy solutions necessary to change how we interact with our environment is a cause worth investigating. Green building systems are in their infancy as far as development. Soon, there will be the volume of systems produced necessary to allow for the subsidy of research to be done and the prices to be lowered.

In higher-end homes, the cost of the system is a smaller percentage of the homebuilding price compared to lesser priced homes. It could be argued that it is incumbent upon those who can more easily afford it to start subsidizing the research to design and produce better, more affordable systems.

More articles in our "Building Green" series coming soon