Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Architecture




Dr. Jens Pohl


Application of PV Panels in Large Multi-Story Buildings Feasibility Study Sara Kayal

The awareness of global warming along with an ever increasing demand for a new source of energy has brought a strong interest in harnessing natural resources such as solar energy. This thesis evaluates the viability of applying photovoltaic (PV) panels in high-rise commercial buildings of around 20 stories. Specifically, the thesis is intended to provide a pre-planning tool during the early design stage for architects and designers who are considering the deployment of PV panels in new multi-story construction.

The first three chapters cover a comprehensive literature review and describe several case studies of the application of PV panels in multi-story buildings. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the objectives and rationale of PV panel research. Chapter 2 explains the physics and characteristics of PV panel technology that is applicable to multi-story buildings. Various PV panel types are explored in this chapter and it is suggested that window-based PV panels are the most suitable type for multi-story buildings in which the available roof area is small in area and limited in flexibility due to competition with other uses. Chapter 3 investigates factors that influence the efficiency of PV panels. These factors reduce the efficiency of PV panels to about 10-15%. In Chapter 4 a study model is presented to validate the results of the previous chapters and to determine the feasibility of PV panel systems with the aid of computer model analysis and simulation. The study model includes a base case of a 20-story building that is surrounded by four adjacent buildings, one adjacent to each orientation. Five configurations of the base model with different arrangements of PV panels were analyzed. First, electrical energy of the base case was calculated without applying any PV panels. The second and third configurations include PV panels on all of the available façade areas on a typical summer and winter day, respectively. The fourth and fifth configurations feature PV panels on only the top 10 floors.

The simulation results show that although some savings accrue over a 25-year life-cycle period, these savings pale in comparison with the initial capital cost associated with the purchase and installation of the PV panels. It was also found that although crystalline silicon panels have a higher initial cost, their superior efficiency and performance present them as better candidates for PV panel applications. In addition, as expected, the south orientation provides potentially the largest amount of electricity production.

In Chapter 5 the simulation results are summarized. The simulation studies address the application of PV panels from three different perspectives, namely: economics; technical feasibility; and, subjective factors. The first four chapters confirm that PV panels, at the current level of technology, are not an efficient and cost effective solution for multi-story buildings. They can satisfy only a very small portion of the electrical energy demand of the building at a very high initial capital cost. However, some strategies are suggested for mitigating the dual problems of inadequate PV production volume and high initial costs. Subjective factors account for other benefits that are not related to economic considerations. These factors include educational, promotional, and business line promotion benefits that could accrue to the building owner.