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Green Roofs Improve Solar Panel Efficiency

By Erin Weaver

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

December 11, 2012

Green roofs are known to extend roof life, conserve energy, and reduce stormwater runoff and air pollution; new studies show they can also boost the performance of solar panels. Plants reduce a roof’s contribution to the urban heat-island effect by lowering the surrounding air temperature through evaporation; this cooling can also make photovoltaic panels perform more efficiently. Plants also reduce airborne pollutants and dust particles, allowing the panels to absorb more sunlight.

Studies show that green roofs, like this one on the California Academy of Sciences, can boost the performance of photovoltaics.
Photo © Shunji Ishida
Studies show that green roofs, like this one on the California Academy of Sciences, can boost the performance of photovoltaics.
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Studies vary in the efficiency boosts reported, from 3 to 16 percent. This is in addition to green roofs’ known effect of cooling indoor air, which reduces annual energy use by 6 percent, according to a recent French study.

New designs for solar arrays allow water to drain evenly across the roof, and research suggests that the biodiversity created by including shade-tolerant plants below the panels can improve a green roof’s overall performance. A recent British study in Building and Environment found that broad-leafed plants such as lamb’s ear, which can thrive in partial shade, outperformed the traditional sedum in cooling the substrate and surrounding air.

Copyright 2012 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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