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"Exploring the Benefits of Bio-Solar Technology for the Future of Rooftop Solar"

Rooftop solar has become increasingly prevalent throughout Australia, with nearly one out of every three Australian homes with solar panels (Sunwiz, 2023) - but commercial buildings often lag behind. But we’re now entering a new era that takes solar to the next level: bio-solar. This innovative solution combines solar panels with vegetation to create symbiotic rooftop ecosystems that maximize renewables and elevate biodiversity.

What is Bio-Solar?

Bio-solar integrates solar PV systems with planted areas on rooftops. This creates a win-win scenario:

  • Solar panels generate clean energy from the sun

  • Plants help cool rooftop temperatures, boosting solar efficiency

  • Vegetation absorbs air pollutants like particulate matter

  • Biodiversity increases as the green roof attracts pollinators and birdlife

Proper plant selection is critical for bio-solar success. Varieties must be short enough to not shade solar panels, while still thriving in roof conditions. There is also the issue of the immense weight rooftop gardens bear, making it an ideal opportunity for commercial buildings rather than residential structures.

The Benefits of Bio-Solar Roofs

Installing bio-solar brings a wide range of advantages over traditional solar alone:

Drastically Boosts Solar Output

By cooling rooftop temperatures by up to 8°C, bio-solar can increase solar panel efficiency by over 100%. Plants keep panels operating at optimal temperatures to maximize power generation.

Cleans the Air

Vegetation improves air quality by absorbing gaseous pollutants through leaf stomata. This biofiltration ability also traps particulate matter. Bio-solar helps combat urban air pollution.

Manages Stormwater Runoff

The green roof component captures and retains rainfall, reducing stormwater runoff volume and flow rate. This alleviates pressure on drainage systems.

Extends Roof Lifespans

Plants shield roofing materials from temperature swings and UV radiation, protecting the underlying waterproofing. This doubles the lifespan of some roofs.

Supports Biodiversity

Bio-solar roofs provide habitat to help offset nature lost to buildings. Pollinators and birds may colonize the greenspace. More biodiversity improves urban ecosystems.

Boosts Property Values

Bio-solar can increase commercial property values thanks to energy savings, amenity space, and sustainability. These roofs also boost brand image.

A variety of images showcasing real world applications of bio solar.
(A) An example of evenly distributed plant cover around solar panels. (B) Aptenia cordifolia (Baby Sun Rose) came to dominate the area beneath solar panels. Minor cover of Viola hederacea can also be seen. (C) Vegetation around solar panels along the outside of east section of the roof. (D) Additional evidence of the dominance of A. cordifolia beneath the panels and dieback directly under them. (E) Relatively even cover of a range of species and marked increase in height in Goodenia ovata (Hop Goodenia). (F) Substantial height increases for the entire vegetation community. Image: Green Roof & Solar Array – UTS Comparative Research Project, Australia

Which Plants Work Best for Bio-Solar Roofs?

Plant selection is crucial for bio-solar success. The vegetation must survive rooftop conditions while avoiding shading solar panels. Recommended varieties include:

  • Succulents like sedums, which require little watering

  • Low-growing perennials such as aptenia, phlox, thyme, and allium

  • Short native grasses that tolerate drought

  • Prostrate shrubs like cotoneaster

Realizing the Full Potential of Rooftop Solar

Bio-solar intelligently combines solar PV with nature. In doing so, it pushes rooftop solar to new heights of efficiency and sustainability.

Building owners and managers would do well to consider bio-solar as the next phase of renewable energy for commercial real estate. If widely adopted, these symbiotic rooftop ecosystems could significantly boost solar capabilities in urban areas while re-integrating nature.

The technology and plants work together in perfect harmony. Bio-solar allows rooftops to generate energy as cleanly as buildings are designed to operate. It represents a truly holistic approach to elevating sustainability from the top down.


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