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Integration of green roof and solar photovoltaic systems
Dr. Sam C. M. Hui* and Miss S. C. Chan
Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
*E-mail: email@example.com, Tel: (852) 2859-2123, Fax: (852) 2858-5415
Green roof and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are two technologies that could contribute to
sustainable building development and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. When they are
combined together on the building roof, it can enhance their functions and effectiveness by
cooling and shading effects. This paper explains the major findings of a research to study the
benefits of integrating green roof and solar PV systems. The important factors affecting the
interactions between the two systems are assessed. The thermal and energy effects are
analysed by theoretical models, experiments and field studies. A hypothetical case study to
retrofit the roof of an existing building in Hong Kong with such integration is carried out to
evaluate the practical design issues. The experimental results showed a positive influence for
this integration: green roof surface and soil temperatures are reduced from the shading and
higher power output of PV panel is achieved from the cooling. The findings of year-round
building energy simulation using EnergyPlus for a low rise commercial building indicated
that the energy consumption for air conditioning of the integrated system is slightly lower
than the stand-alone system and the PV system on integrated approach generates 8.3% more
electricity than the stand-a-lone option. The extent of the benefits depends on the system
design and how to determine the optimum arrangement for a particular building site.
Keywords: Green roofs, solar photovoltaic, system integration.
Green roof and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are two technologies that could contribute to
sustainable building development and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Nowadays,
some people are interested in developing green roofs for energy saving, reducing storm water
runoff and improving building thermal and environmental performance (Castleton, et al.,
2010; Hui, 2010; Hui, 2006). Others are interested in adopting solar PV systems at rooftops
for renewable power generation (Parida, Iniyan and Goicm, 2011).
Green roofs and roof-mounted solar panels may initially appear as competitors for limited
rooftop space (Peck and van der Linde, 2010). But in fact when they are combined together
on the building roof, the integration can enhance their functions and effectiveness by cooling
and shading effects (Köhler, et al., 2002). It is believed that cooling from evapotranspiration
of green roof plants enables a higher efficiency of PV panels, and at the same time, the panels
shade the plants from excessive sun exposure and evaporation thus improving plant growth.
Some research studies have been done in different countries to evaluate the energy and
thermal performance of green roof and PV systems separately. However, there are very few
studies on the integration of both systems for subtropical climates. This paper explains the
major findings of a research to study the benefits of integrating green roof and solar PV
systems. The important factors affecting the interactions between the two systems are
assessed. The thermal and energy effects are analysed by theoretical models, experiments and
field studies. A hypothetical case study to retrofit the roof of an existing building in Hong
Hui, S. C. M. and Chan, S. C., 2011. Integration of green roof and solar photovoltaic systems, In Proceedings of
Joint Symposium 2011: Integrated Building Design in the New Era of Sustainability, 22 November 2011 (Tue),
ri-la Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, Hon
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Kong with such integration is carried out to evaluate the practical design issues. It is hoped
that a better understanding of the integration can help promote sustainable building design.
2. BASIC PRINCIPLES
The thermal properties of green roofs, the electrical efficiency of PV panels and the typical
arrangement of system integration are described.
2.1 Thermal Properties of Green Roofs
Figure 1 shows the fundamental concepts to explain the thermal properties of green roofs
(Hui, 2009). The external climatic factor (solar radiation, external temperature, relative
humidity and winds) are reduced as they pass through the foliage of green roof. Large
amount of solar energy are absorbed for the growth of plants through their biological
functions, such as photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration and evaporation. The heat
transfer of green roofs is dominated by four mechanisms (Del Barrio, 1998; Niachou, et al.,
2001; Feng, Meng and Zhang, 2010):
(b) Shading by plants
(c) Thermal insulation
(d) Thermal mass storage
Figure 1. Thermal properties of green roof (Hui, 2009)
The thermal benefits of green roofs can be studied from two aspects (Hui, 2009; Wong, et al.,
2003). Firstly, the direct effect to the building (internal) can control roof surface temperature
and building heat gain so that the building energy use can be reduced (Castleton, et al., 2010).
Secondly, the indirect effect to the surrounding environment (external) can decrease the
urban temperature and help mitigate the adverse impacts of urban heat islands.
2.2 Electrical Efficiency of PV Cells
The electrical efficiency (η) of PV cells is the result of the relationship between the power
delivered by the cell and the amount of solar irradiation (Meral and Dinçer, 2011; Parida,
Iniyan and Goicm 2011). Heat is one of the primary factors that affect the efficiency of roof-
mounted PV panels. High rooftop temperatures increase the conductivity of the crystalline
semiconductor of PV panel, which in turn inhibits charge separation and lowers the voltage
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of the solar cell. The high temperature can decrease PV panel productivity by up to 25% and
a value of -0.45% per degree celsius can be applied for crystalline silicon PV cells (Peck and
van der Linde, 2010; Makrides, et al., 2009). An effective way of improving efficiency and
reducing the rate of thermal degradation of a PV module is by reducing the operating
temperature of its surface (Meral and Dinçer, 2011).
Another factor influencing the efficiency of PV system is the air pollution or dirt/dust level.
Dirt/dust can accumulate on the PV module surface, blocking some of the sunlight and
reducing output (Meral and Dinçer, 2011). Kaldellis and Fragos (2011) reported that almost
1.5% efficiency reduction is obtained on a dust-deposed PV panel for ash accumulation on
the panel surface reaching 0.4 mg/cm2. However, it is difficult to generalise and quantify the
impact of air pollution on PV system performance because the atmospheric and site
conditions may vary significantly.
2.3 System Integration
Initial research by Köhler, et al. (2002) showed promising results for green roof and solar PV
integration; the electricity generation of PV on green roof is 6% higher than on conventional
roofs (Köhler, Wiartalla and Feige, 2007). The green roof cools ambient temperatures around
the solar panels, allowing the solar panels to stay cooler and function better. A recent
research also confirmed the potential benefit of such integration (Sailor, Wamser and
Rosenstiel, 2010). Since green roof can help reduce dust level and improve air quality, the
efficiency of PV system could be enhanced but no solid evidence can be found in the
literature at present.
On a flat roof with solar PV panels, a green roof installation should be restricted to extensive
or low-profile vegetation. The solar panels should be installed above the vegetation level so
that the panels are not shaded. Lightweight frames are often used to raise and tilt panels
towards the predominant direction of the sun; shade-tolerant vegetation is then planted under
the panels. Figure 2 shows an example of green roof and solar PV integration.
Figure 2. An example of green roof and solar PV integration (Peck and van der Linde, 2010)
The solar panels were mounted on framework which is fixed to plastic boards. The profiled
plastic boards are covered with substrate and allow rain water to drain through and
vegetation to grow underneath the solar panels. Frames usually have a base (also lightweight)
to permit better load distribution. The roof is therefore better protected from damage by point
loads. The racking systems for solar panels may be designed so that the green roof layers act
as ballast, thereby saving the need for roof penetrations or concrete pavers (Peck and van der
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3. ENERGY SIMULATION ANALYSIS
To investigate the energy impacts of green roof and solar PV integration, a building energy
simulation software, EnergyPlus Version 6.0 (www.energyplus.gov), was used. This
software EnergyPlus has a green roof model developed by Sailor (2008) and can calculate
the annual energy consumption of the whole building with solar PV systems. Four simulation
models were set up using EnergyPlus for comparing the energy performance of green roof,
PV and the integrated systems under the Hong Kong climate. Figure 3 shows the basic
descriptions of the models. Model number 1 is the base case reference (bare roof) which is a
12-storey office building with a total floor area of 46,320 m2. Model number 2, 3 and 4 are
derived from the base case with green roof and PV systems added.
Figure 3. Four simulation models for the investigation of energy performance
It is assumed that the PV systems of model number 3 and 4 have efficiency of 12% and 13%,
respectively. Each PV system covers a roof area of 2,494 m2. Also, the power generated from
the PV system is used for general lighting (i.e. decreases the actual lighting energy use). The
leaf area index (LAI) of model number 2 is assumed to be 3 for a typical extensive green roof,
whereas the LAI of model number 4 is divided into two parts: LAI = 3 for 30% of roof area
(exposed) and LAI = 3.5 for 70% of roof area (under the PV panels).
3.1 Annual Energy Consumption
As the PV system will only affect the lighting energy and the green roof system will affect
the building thermal load, it is more effective to assess the energy consumption components
of lighting and space conditioning in order to evaluate the energy impacts. Figure 4 indicates
the annual energy consumption of lighting and space conditioning for the four models. From
the lighting energy consumption, it is found that the PV panels of the integrated system
produce 118 GJ more energy than the PV panels on bare roof. As for the space conditioning,
the figures for the 4 models are very close. This implies that the green roof system has
minimal direct impact on the building energy consumption. It is because the amount of green
roof area is small as compared to the total building floor area.
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Figure 4. Annual Energy Consumption of Lighting and Space Conditioning
3.2 Monthly Energy Performance
Figure 5 shows the monthly energy generation of the stand-alone PV (model number 3) and
green roof integrated PV system (model number 4). It can be seen that the PV systems
generate more energy during summer time than winter time due to high value of solar
irradiance in summer. For each calendar month, the integrated system produces 8.3% more
energy than the stand-alone system because of the efficiency improvement (assumed from
12% to 13%). This amount only considers the direct effect to the building itself. If the
indirect effect to the surrounding environment and urban temperature is taken into account,
there could be benefits for other buildings too.
Figure 5. Monthly power generation of stand-alone PV and green roof integrated PV systems
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4. FIELD MEASUREMENTS
In order to study the practical design issues of green roof and PV integration, field
measurements had been carried out on a rooftop garden of HKU Main Library (see Figure 6)
on a sunny day from 11 am to 2 pm. Control experiments were done by using two identical
PV panels which were placed on a bare roof and an intensive green roof. Figure 7 shows the
four scenarios being assessed. The temperature at different positions and the power output of
the PV panels were recorded using temperature sensors, data loggers and multi-meters.
Temperature sensors were placed inside the soil layer (about 1 to 2 cm depth), at the soil
surface and leaf surface, and on the upper and bottom surfaces of the PV panels.
Figure 6. Measurement locations at a rooftop garden of HKU Main Library
Integrated system Green roof Bare roof with PV Bare roof
Figure 7. Four scenarios being assessed for the field measurements
4.1 Assessment of Temperatures
Figure 8 compares the soil surface temperatures of the integrated system (with shading effect)
and the green roof (without shading by PV panels). A temperature difference of about 4 to 5
ºC can be observed. It is believed that this shading effect is important for the healthy growth
and well-being of the vegetation especially during the very hot summer period. Hui (2009)
has observed at a school green roof project in Hong Kong that the sedum plant can grow
better under partial shading near the ventilating fans of the roof. Köhler, Wiartalla and Feige
(2007) also found that in the shade of the PV panels, the biomass and number of plant species
are significantly higher.
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As for the PV panels, the temperature measurements on the upper surfaces indicate that the
integrated system (with greening around) has 5 to 11 ºC lower than the bare roof PV system.
This temperature difference was observed under bright sunshine when the PV panels were
producing high electrical output. In order to assess the total power yield generated by the PV
systems, further studies are needed to evaluate the conditions throughout the year.
Figure 8. Soil surface temperatures of integrated system and green roof
4.2 Assessment of PV Output
Figure 9 shows the power output of PV panels on bare roof and integrated system. The
average power production over the period for integrated system and bare roof PV panel are
32.2W and 33.6W, respectively. In general, the integrated system can give about 4.3% more
electricity than the PV on bare roof during measurement period. The temperature evaluation
of the PV panels also indicated that the cooling effect by vegetation is quite significant.
Figure 9. PV power output on bare roof and integrated system
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Li, Cheung and Lam (2005) found that the operational performance and efficiency of a PV
system in Hong Kong is influenced considerably by the climatic variables, such as solar
irradiance availability and ambient temperature. In fact, the PV output is also affected by air
pollution or dust level (Meral and Dinçer, 2011) and the surrounding rooftop environment.
However, it is not possible to distinguish them from the current measurement results.
5. CASE STUDY
Hong Kong has high-density and high-rise building developments, therefore, the available
roof space is often very limited (Hui and Chan, 2008). If it is feasible to apply both green
roof and PV systems onto the available roof space, this can facilitate a more effective use of
sustainable technologies and help to reduce the total investment costs (Hui, 2010). When this
idea is applied to existing buildings, it can provide many benefits to improve the building
performance and urban environment, as illustrated in the case study.
5.1 EMSD Headquarters
To evaluate the practical design issues, a hypothetical case study was created to retrofit the
roof of an existing building in Hong Kong. This building is the headquarters of the Electrical
and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) and has a roof area of about 7,900 m2. The
roof is made of aluminum sheet modules (known as Kalzip aluminum standing seam roofing
system) and a 350 kW grid-connected PV system has been installed on the rooftop (Ho, Chan
and Lau, 2007) (see Figure 10). It is proposed that an extensive modular green roof system
(using sedum plant) will be installed on the roof by integrating with the Kalzip roofing
system. By coordinating the green roof with the existing roofing system, the additional costs
can be reduced and the roofing performance ensured.
Figure 10. PV and roof systems at the EMSD Headquarters
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5.2 Integration Performance
To assess the building energy benefits of adding the green roof to the EMSD headquarters,
an indicator for the energy saving per green roof area (due to thermal benefits of green roof)
was developed from the energy simulation results in Section 3. It was determined by dividing
the total annual energy reduction in air conditioning loads due to green roof by the total
green roof area of the model building. This indicator was found to be 37.32 MJ/m2.
(a) Green roof performance on annual basis
Assuming the green roof will be installed on 80% of the roof area, by applying the energy
saving indicator, the annual energy and cost saving is calculated as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Green roof performance calculation
Green roof area 6300 m2 (about 80% total roof area)
Energy saving per green roof area 37.32MJ/m2 (based on simulation result)
Energy saving due to green roof installation 235,116 MJ
Electricity consumption reduction 65,310 kWh
Annual cost saving HK$63,351
(b) PV system performance on annual basis
Assuming the PV system efficiency improves from 12% to 13% due to cooling effect of the
green roof. Additional electricity generated from the PV system and the cost saving are
calculated as shown in Table 2. The electricity cost is assumed to be HK$0.97 per kWh. The
reference annual final yield is extracted from Ho, Chan and Lau (2007).
Table 2. PV system performance calculation
Parameter With Green Roof
(Efficiency = 13%) Without Green Roof
(Efficiency = 12%)
Annual final yield (kWh/kWp) 1,021.6 943
Electricity generated (kWh) 357,560 330,050
Cost saving (HK$) 346,833 320,149
Annual cost saving due to green roof : HK$26,685
It can be seen from the above estimates that the potential energy and cost savings are quite
good. There are also other benefits on micro climate, dust level and acoustic performance
(during heavy rainfall, the aluminum Kalzip roofing system will generate noise).
It is believed that green roofs and PV system can be used together and there is no clash
between them (Köhler, Wiartalla and Feige, 2007). Combining the two technologies in an
innovative way to form so called “green roof integrated PV” (Witmer and Brownson, 2010)
could bring positive effects to building energy conservation and improving of the
surrounding urban environment. The extent of the benefits depends on the system design and
how to determine the optimum arrangement for a particular building site. In order to
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maximize the overall performance of the integrated green roof and PV system, it is essential
to study and understand the interactions between them.
6.1 Positive Effects of Green Roofs
The installation of PV panels with green roofs will result in a net cooling of the micro climate
that offsets the warming effect of PV panels. In most project situations the additional costs
for the extensive green roof could be recovered by the higher electrical power output of the
PV system over a few years following installation. To maximize the cooling effect, the layout
and spacing of the integrated system must be designed carefully. The size and scale of the
greening must be large enough to contribute cooling to the surrounding.
Usually, the PV panel and vegetation should be placed at a close distance so that the cooling
by evapo-transpiration can directly influence the solar modules. Green roofs with sprinkler
head irrigation could enhance the cooling by increasing the moisture level and producing
water mist in the air. If the irrigation system and natural rainfall are properly arranged, the
water could help to remove the dirt/dust on the solar panels too.
6.2 Advantages of Solar Panels
The solar panels shade parts of the roof and thereby reduce the sun exposure and high
evaporation rates normally experienced on extensive green roofs. The shading will reduce the
drought stress for plants and could enhance green roof ecosystem viability by promoting
more plant species and biodiversity. This might also enable the use of plants that increase
carbon sequestration and carbon gain.
The electricity generated by PV panels can be used to power the water pumps, lighting and
other electrical appliances. By proper designing and matching of the electrical loads, it is
possible to become self-sufficient on electricity for the building rooftop. This will reduce the
costs of electrical wiring and distribution from the supply mains. Together with rainwater
harvesting and other renewable technologies, a sustainable system can be created for roof
gardens and/or rooftop farming (Hui, 2010).
6.3 Other Considerations
Most design guidelines for green roofs will remind people to check the structural loading and
waterproofing membrane before committing to the project (Hui, 2010). The integrated green
roof and PV system will have many components and must be assessed carefully for the
overall weight and water leakage issues. For existing buildings, the site constraints and
limitations might demand designers to select and arrange the system elements (e.g.
lightweight and modular) so that the load carrying capacity is not exceeded and construction
can be carried out effectively.
Another key issue to consider is related to system maintenance. It should be noted that
intensive green roofs or roof gardens have high maintenance requirements, such as watering,
fertilizing, trimming and weeding. For a properly installed extensive green roof, once it is
well established, its maintenance requirements are usually minimal. Plants for green roofs
must be selected with care if the roof is expected to stay more or less maintenance free. For
maintenance of PV panels, pathways are needed and this mean also more trampling
disturbance of the vegetation.
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Integrating green roofs and solar PV systems can enhance their functions and effectiveness
by cooling and shading effects. The results of literature theoretical study, field measurements
and case study in Hong Kong indicated a positive influence for this integration. It is found
from field measurements that green roof surface and soil temperatures are reduced from the
PV panel shading and higher power output of PV panel is achieved from the green roof
cooling effect. The findings of year-round building energy simulation using EnergyPlus
indicated that the energy consumption for air conditioning of the integrated system is slightly
lower than the stand-alone system and the PV system on integrated approach generates 8.3%
more electricity than the stand-a-lone option. The extent of the benefits depends on the
system design and how to determine the optimum arrangement for a particular building site.
In general, this research study provides useful hints to understand green roof and PV
integration for hot and humid climates.
As we move towards more sustainable buildings, our knowledge of how organic (e.g.
greening) and inorganic (e.g. solar PV) technologies can work together will be critical to the
long-term success of the society (Peck and van der Linde, 2010).
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