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CIS Tower Solar Skyscraper Retrofit (Manchester, UK)

Credits: ©2009 Solarcentury

Built in 1962 in Manchester(UK) to host the British insurance company CIS Ltd. head quarters, the CIS Tower was suffering the from its 40 years exposure to pollution. The building, that was the highest in Europe when it was built and still is the second highest in Manchester, had millions of little mosaic tiles covering its windowless façade, but due to time and pollution, these tiles were falling off. After spending £5.5 million (around $ 11 million), three faces of the building were clad with a total of 7,244 Sharp photovoltaic panels generating 390kW of energy – or 181,000 units of renewable electricity each year - equivalent to the energy needed to full power 55 homes for a year.. Only 4,898 of the modules are actually functional, but they still soak up enough sunlight to generate 390-kilowatts of energy, or enough juice to "power 1,000 PCs for a year." The PVS began feeding electricity to the National Grid in November 2005. This green building also has 24 wind turbines on the roof, which provide 10 percent of the total power used by the building.


CIS Tower Solar Skyscraper Manchester View (UK)

CIS Tower in Manchester, UK, was solar-retrofitted in 2006 to make it Europe's largest vertical solar array. Contrary to popular belief, light levels in the UK are sufficient to make photovoltaic cells viable throughout the country, with photovoltaics generating power even on cloudy days. ©2009 Nick Grayson

The CIS tower in Manchester has three of its four sides completely clad in photovoltaic cells. This allows the building to harvest the sun's power throughout the day from dawn to dusk. The front wall is facing south, which is the main recipient of sunlight. The east and west walls would receive far less light. As this structure is in the Northern Hemisphere, there is clearly no point cladding the north wall with solar panels.

This building is a perfect example of mega-scale use of solar panels. Even though the east and west walls are clearly not as productive as the south wall they were paneled anyway. Cooperative Insurance Society (CIS) invested over four million pounds of non-government funds into this project. That's the equivalent of $USD 8.04 million or $AU 9.36 million, and it was the largest renewable energy project in the UK.

The tower's 7,244 solar panels produce sufficient energy per annum on average to power a three bedroom house for 60 years. While the panels produce only 21kW of electricity (= 0.021 MW), CIS has used this office building to make a public commitment to build a sustainable future. Even though the solar panels only meet 10% of the building's power needs, and will probably never pay for themselves, CIS has done as much as they could to make this one of the greenest office buildings in the United Kingdom.

This project also serves as a counter argument to the often aired idea that Solar Power is not a viable mainstream energy supply because of the amount of space required. This building is meeting 10% of its energy needs with no additional space requirements for the panels. This same approach can be taken to rooftops, correctly facing walls, carpark covers, bus shelters, the list is endless. All we need to do is stand on top of a hill in any urban area and we can see thousands of acres of free roof and wall space which can be treated in the same manner as the CIS Tower.

The largest commercial solar façade in Europe
Solarcentury worked on a £5.5 million project to turn Manchester’s CIS Tower, a noted local landmark, into the largest commercial solar façade in Europe. As part of the building’s refurbishment, the design team developed a weatherproof cladding which incorporated photovoltaic modules. The cost of incorporating the technology was offset against the projected cost of replacing the traditional mosaic tiles that had previously wrapped the Tower.

The 7,244 80W PV cells, which cover the Tower’s entire surface, were manufactured by Sharp to Solarcentury’s designs. The renewable energy they generate saves the equivalent of 100 tons of CO2 emissions. The CIS Tower project is one of the biggest solar installations in the UK and demonstrates how new PV technology can be easily incorporated into building practice.

Contrary to popular belief, light levels in the UK are sufficient to make photovoltaic cells viable throughout the country, with photovoltaics generating power even on cloudy days. In addition, solar energy works well in built-up urban areas (unlike wind turbines) and can be retro-fitted to existing buildings and houses relatively cheaply, to produce truly local power. According to Solarcentury, proponents believe that Britain’s uptake of solar technology would increase dramatically were the market incentivized with a feed-in tariff, as is the case in Germany, which has 200 times the solar capacity of the UK.


CIS Tower Solar Skyscraper 3-D Sketchup Model