Solar wrap: Aussie tower aims to go off-grid

Rather than the stars, a soaring 60-story apartment tower proposed in Melbourne, Australia, will reach for the sun. As planned, the Sol Invictus Tower — meaning “invincible sun” —- would wrap its glass facade with photovoltaic panels, purportedly making the 520-unit structure the first in the nation to incorporate a solar-based engineering scheme into building frontage.

Intended to leverage Australia’s abundant sunshine, the the facade would utilize some 3,000 sq m of solar panels, plus an additional 300 sq m atop the roof. Off-the-grid power generated by the UV rays would then be stored in a Tesla-like battery system. The strategy is simply to maximize the surface area available to capture solar energy for building occupants, according to Melbourne-based Peddle Thorp Architects. “We get an enormous area of solar panels by comparison to running them [only] across the roof,” the firm’s Peter Brook told reporters.

The concept significantly influenced the building’s massing; its curvature and orientation are designed to align with the sun’s daily east-to-west movement. The result is a sinewy structure that will cut a distinctive profile on the city’s skyline.

If all goes as planned, Invictus will emerge as “the country’s first substantially off-the-grid, green-energy generating residential tower,” said Raff De Luise, managing director with owner’s representative ICR Property Group, in a statement. In addition to high-tech solar panels sourced from China, plans also call for rooftop wind turbines, double-glazed window units, and LED lighting, among other features.

“Although the goal will be to have a complete off-grid building, that’s probably somewhat over-ambitious”

— Peter Brook, project architect

But those components alone won’t render Sol Invictus a completely off-the-grid structure. In fact, the current design accounts for only 50% of the structure’s base power. “Although the goal will be to have a complete off-grid building, that’s probably somewhat over-ambitious,” Brook said in an interview. “But the objective is to get as far as we can down that road.”

However, Brook also noted that solar technology is rapidly evolving, and that panels slated to be used at Invictus now could later demonstrate increased capacity. He told reporters that Peddle Thorp relied heavily on the expertise of a 300-employee office the firm operates in Shanghai, China, since Chinese regulations require energy-generating buildings of similar capacities. “Some of the formats of the projects we do overseas have been far more adventurous than what we are able to do here,” he said.

For the moment, all of the proposed solar tower’s future adventures rest with the State of Victoria’s minister of planning Richard Wynne. Plans for the Sol Invictus are now awaiting his approval.