STEM SIGHTS: These Concordians want your house to power itself!
When it comes to global energy consumption, buildings are a substantial drain — up to 40 per cent, in fact.
That’s why two Concordia students in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science are working to improve the environmental footprint of the building sector.
PhD student Stratos Rounis (MSc 15) and MSc student Olesia Kruglov are investigating how solar technology can be implemented at the earliest design stage, rather than after construction is complete. They’re developing a solar/thermal prototype at Andreas Athienitis’ Solar Simulator - Environmental Chamber Laboratory in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Photovoltaic/thermal systems are one of the most promising renewable energy technologies,” Rounis says.
His and Kruglov’s research could reduce building energy demands, both in terms of electricity and heat consumption. And it’s possible it could positively impact agriculture, industry and highway infrastructure at the same time.
‘Solar technologies can have a huge impact’
How does this specific image relate to your research at Concordia?
Stratos Rounis: The photo shows our experimental photovoltaic/thermal prototype. We designed this heat- and electricity-generating system in such a way that it can be part of the building itself, rather than an add-on feature — such as racks or solar thermal collectors placed on roofs.
It’s called a building-integrated photovoltaic/thermal system, and it's currently being tested at the Solar Simulator Environmental Chamber Lab.
How does the prototype work?
Olesia Kruglov: Photovoltaic (PV) panels (more commonly known as solar panels) consist of semi-conducting materials that can convert solar radiation into electricity through a process known as the “photovoltaic effect.” However, only part of the solar radiation that the panels receive is converted into electricity, while the largest portion of it is turned into heat, increasing the PV temperature.
Part of this heat can be recovered with use of a fluid medium (e.g. air, water). This circulates behind the PV and is then used for various heating applications. Our research focuses on solar technologies that can specifically be implemented in building designs.
What makes your prototype unique?
OK: The prototype considers real-world building assembly challenges and it’s designed in a way to facilitate construction and installation on building facades. Ultimately, this should encourage the building industry to use solar technologies on a widespread scale.
What is the hoped-for result of your project?
SR: The goal is to design net-zero energy buildings that produce at least as much energy as they consume. Photovoltaic/thermal systems can contribute to the reduction of a building’s energy demand, both in terms of electricity and heat consumption.
What are some of the major challenges you face in your research?
OK: This is a truly interdisciplinary project involving building physics, architectural design and constructability, with participants from each field. This creates limitations which are, at times, difficult to resolve, but they ultimately strengthen the design. The solutions address many issues relevant to bringing this technology into the industry.
Where could your work be applied?
SR: Solar technologies can have numerous applications in residential, commercial and institutional projects. Since the building sector is responsible for 30 to 40 per cent of global energy consumption, the implementation of such technologies can have a huge impact on the total energy demand.
However, this is not limited to buildings, since these systems can be used in industrial and agricultural sectors as well. We are also currently investigating possible applications in highway infrastructure.
What person or experience first inspired you to study this subject?
OK: Prior to beginning my work at Concordia, I was looking for a degree in building science and wanted to focus on window technologies. When I met with Andreas Athienitis — director of Concordia’s Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies — his research on solar facades captivated me. I knew I wanted to combine the world of facade design with that of renewable energy technologies.
SR: The concept of sustainability and energy efficiency in buildings was always of interest to me. However, it was not until I got in touch with Andreas and his team that I realized the potential in this field.
How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research?
OK: A great first step is to contact Andreas or anyone at the centre. For those interested in discovering more, there are plenty of research articles and conference papers being published about solar technologies.
What do you like best about being at Concordia?
SR: I have the opportunity to do research in a very interesting field with amazing means to do so, in terms of facilities and equipment. I also have excellent support from and cooperation with my supervisors and lab colleagues.
OK: As an architect, I’ve struggled at times to understand the theoretical concepts in engineering. However, taking courses within the department and getting support from my colleagues and supervisors has given me a clearer understanding.
Rounis and Kruglov’s research is primarily funded by the NSERC/Hydro-Québec Industrial Research Chair in Optimized Building Operation and Energy Efficiency, with additional support from the NSERC Smart Net-zero Energy Buildings strategic Research Network and Concordia’s Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies, as well as equipment and expertise from CanadianSolar and Unicel Architectural.
Find out more about Concordia's Solar Simulator Environmental Chamber Lab.