Should You Put Solar Tracking Skylights in Your Building Design?
By Jeff Brain | January 24, 2018
Staying ahead of rising electricity costs is a struggle faced by all business owners and building managers. Last year the average electricity cost across the U.S. rose by 3.2 percent, and has shown no signs of declining. This is forcing architects and business owners to adapt by incorporating the latest sustainable technology into new facilities.
Solar tracking skylights are a cutting edge active daylighting system. These skylights achieve peak efficiency by combining solar power and GPS technology to angle an array of mirrors, reflecting natural sunlight into your facility. Because these systems are operated by solar power, this process consumes zero electricity, and provides light for more hours per-day than any other skylight system on the market. Despite this, they are not a perfect fit for every application. It is important to weigh the benefits of these skylights against their potential disadvantages to evaluate whether they belong in your next building plan.
Solar tracking skylights provide several key benefits that artificial lighting products cannot provide.
A study published by the Heschong Mahone Group on the effects of natural light in the workplace found that exposure to sunlight can actually increase productivity by 6-16%. Not only that, but it is shown to markedly reduce employee absenteeism, increasing the amount of productive hours spent in the workplace.
Medical research shows that incorporating daylight into a building is a major step toward creating a healthier indoor space. Spending just a few hours a day in natural sunlight is shown to help combat a laundry-list of health issues, from seasonal affective disorder and insomnia, to rickets and multiple sclerosis.
Raises Sales Figures
An analysis of retail stores by PG&E found that, on average, stores which incorporate daylighting experience 40% higher sales than stores which do not use natural light. Another study by Walmart of their own facilities found that if two identical items were placed in a store, one under natural light, the other under artificial, the item in the sun would consistently out-sell the other.
Because they are solar powered, generate zero heat waste, and can illuminate a building for up to 10.5 hours a day, solar tracking devices consume less energy than any other method of lighting. This can reduce artificial lighting and HVAC costs by more than 60%. A case study by A-1 Cold Storage found that their solar tracking system reduced energy bills by $2000 a month, while improving the quality of light the warehouse received.
When Are They the Wrong Option?
Despite the incredible benefits they offer, solar tracking skylights are not the best fit for every project. Just like every system, they have a unique set of pros and cons which determine where they are the best fit. Here are two key reasons that a solar tracking system might be a bad fit for your project.
Not Suited for Small Facilities
The solar tracking devices currently on the market are by and large designed for large scale commercial and industrial facilities. While the large units are excellent for illuminating wide open spaces, they are not currently suitable for lighting small business facilities or private residences, although some manufacturers are working on developing smaller units for these applications.
High Upfront Cost
One of the largest difficulties faced by those considering a solar tracking system for their facility is the upfront cost of the skylights. Because of the cutting edge technology they employ, these skylights require a larger initial investment than other skylights on the market, which sometimes threatens to push constructions over budget. If they fit into your budget however, these skylights offer the fastest return on investment of any system on the market today—a meager 2.5-4 years—allowing you to recoup the high cost quickly.