Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy system for multi-family housing - Is it a new construction trend?

When we think about the development of solar energy in Poland, through the eyes of our imagination we see countless single-family houses, the owners of which, invest in photovoltaic systems due to rising electricity prices and the possibility of obtaining funding. 

In fact, more and more Polish single-family houses decide to install PV solar panels on their roofs or carports. There are also more and more solar companies on the market. Additionally, funding, self-sufficiency, lower costs or macroeconomic inflation trend are just examples of the arguments for making such an investment choice.  In Poland, the process of installing panels rarely runs parallel to the construction process, more often such a decision is made long after the completion of construction works.

However, when we think about the popularity of solar energy in other countries, it turns out that the connection of solar energy to installations post factum setup in relation to a residential building is only our national reality. This trend in other countries begins to appear in larger development investments, which want to be pioneers on this market and stay ahead of the competition. What are the arguments supporting developers’ decision on installing solar panels? First of all, you need to take into account the operating costs and lower bills not only for one residential unit but also for the entire housing estate and common areas. The energy produced by photovoltaic panels is not only an ecological solution, but also generates lower heating costs.  The energy obtained in this way heats the common areas of buildings, ensures the operation of: elevators, air conditioning or gates, and also allows corridors’, garages’ and staircases’ lightning.

The investment planning process establishes the positioning of PV panels, taking into consideration the aesthetic value and the positioning of the system to the correct side - to make the panels work at a maximum efficiency. External walls and roofs that are made to collect solar energy are also important. They can reduce heat loss by up to 1/3 compared to conventional walls. BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) is a solution of this kind, In which photovoltaic materials are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building. This is much easier and more effective way to install the panels on the existing roofs. It is possible to use a ready-made roof that consists integrating photovoltaics modules, which is an alternative to traditional panels, and at the same time is an aesthetic and unconventional surface. It is a clever solution, which, however, requires from the investor planning it a the design stage. Despite the increase in cost at the beginning of investment planning due to the need to employ specialists, the long-term benefits that can be achieved are disproportionately large, e.g. by reducing rent and electricity bills. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, the solar panels market in housing estates in Poland is still underdeveloped compared to other countries that aim to achieve climate neutrality. 

Why should we focus on renewable energy in residential construction and not in detached houses? The decisive factor here is the scale effect that can be achieved on large and even surfaces, which are typical for multi-apartment construction. 

Legal regulations in Poland still remain an issue. They should allow for a simple and clear space for common use and distribution of energy produced by photovoltaic panels of shared buildings. Is last amendment to the Act a step towards this direction? Consumers will decide. Another issue is access to the electrical grid in which oversurplus energy can be stored. Here, the largest national electricity suppliers have to find a way to effectively promote and invite entire housing estates to sign multilateral agreement. In addition to goodwill, the necessary infrastructure will also be needed. Energy cooperatives, which are often established in such cases, exist on a large scale in many countries of the European Union. Countries such as Austria, and in particular its capital Vienna, can be an example of a well-functioning partnership of this type. 

United Kingdom is one of the countries that strongly promotes use of solar energy in total energy consumption. According to Government studies, 70% of the UK population support solar energy. BIPV solutions are key here, because the UK’s homes are the country’s second highest emitters of carbon. While existing houses can be better insulated or made more energy-efficient by investing in solar panels, batteries and other sustainable energy measures, the UK bets on new projects, assuming that developers should start the distributed energy grid revolution. A research carried out by Eco2Solar showed that 15% of potential buyers of new buildings rated solar panels as a major home-purchasing decision. Their presence or absence would influence it. No wonder, because this market segment in the UK, EU Western countries or Scandinavian countries is already very experienced and strongly developed.  This allows BIPV developers and producers to develop such projects that with their futuristic look can attract potential buyers. Modules provided in the design phase can create an uniform, coherent surface, without visible profiles, thanks to which a modern and exceptionally harmonious effect will be obtained.  Other measures, such as electric vehicle charging points and smart plugs, are also highly rated, but solar panels provide direct monetary benefits by generating free electricity and substantially lowering energy bills. Such possibilities are provided by, for example, the use of an integrated fastening system, which makes the investment even more profitable.  The UK government developed the Ten-point plan for a sustainable future includes an ambition for greener buildings by having future homes built to be zero-carbon ready, and will have 75-80% lower carbon dioxide emissions than those built to current standards in the United Kingdom.

It is often argued that taking into consideration the Polish longitude solar energy investments has limited profitability. However, projects focusing on generating energy with solar panels are successfully implemented by American investors next to Salt Lake City, that are struggling with increasing air pollution. Housing estates completely powered by solar energy sources are being built there. Additionally, energy surplus is stored for the future needs of tenants. It is used for heating and mobility, which means there are no local emissions. Home storage units are connected with photovoltaic systems to form a virtual power plant, thus relieving the power grid during peak energy hours.

Denmark is an example of other interesting solutions. Gate21 is an organization that aims to make Denmark a leading region in the world in terms of ecological transformation. Its project "Active roofs and facades" is worth mentioning. It targets the social housing sector. So it connects climate and social objectives, and aims to disseminate effective profitable building integrated photovoltaic solutions in the form of either building integrated PV modules in the roof solutions or as part of general renovation projects and new construction.

The project aims to install a total of 2.6 MWp of BIPV solutions in housing associations. The second project ran by the organization is "Active House". It is targeted at professional developers and aims to promote the spread of BIPV solutions in residential and public buildings. The project partnership will do this by developing architecturally customized and cost effective solutions that fully or partially replace traditional roofing and facade materials, which are an integral part of an overall concept for the future construction. The solutions are demonstrated on major new construction and renovations in housing associations. The focus will be on energy conservation and proven performance in accordance with international Active House specifications. 

First investments are starting to emerge in Poland, which will generate electricity from their own photovoltaic panels, as well as apply the ESG principle - environmental, social and corporate governance. An example of such a housing estate is Osiedle Wojszyckie Alejki, built by ROBYG WPB, or the Agrobex company, which expanded its activity and started the construction of multi-family buildings with solar panels on the roofs. As part of the Nowe Zegrze estate, 274 photovoltaic panels were installed. More big companies are entering the market. Echo Investment has announced cooperation with the electricity supplier Veolia. As part of the contract between the companies, a pilot installation of PV photovoltaic panels is to be designed and built to generate electricity at the place of its use.

Polish developers who want to go with global trends in green building should think about integrating the panels into the architecture of the estate at the investment planning process. This is the trend that should be followed in the coming years to meet the expectations of their customers - says Konrad Płochocki, General Director of the Polish Association of Developers. It is worth mentioning that in Poland we have BIPV producer which is essential for the development of solar energy in the development industry. ML System company that has nearly 200 employers and according to the report Building Integrated Photovoltaic Skylights Market 2020-2027, it is one of the top key BIPV producers across the world. 

The Polish development industry is aware of the need to use pro-ecological solutions in its investments also because of consumers’ ecological awareness. Poland’s energy policy has three priorities - preventing the expected increases in electricity prices, strategic security of energy supply and energy transformation. Multi-apartment construction and the concept of shared energy farms meet those three criteria. Thanks to larger surfaces, it allows for more efficient energy production (of “clean” energy production that is free).  Secondly, it causes the grid to become dispersed and thus makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to damage. Thirdly, it belongs to renewable energy sources, and thus brings us closer to our goals - achieving climate neutrality. It is obvious that developers also have an important role to play in this. 

The text was prepared by the Polish Association of Developers
The title, lead and subtitles were prepared by the TOGETAIR Editorial Board