Like most people nowadays we think Solar PV is sexy. When you have a Brooklyn brownstone it isn’t like you can have a lot of it, though. Especially now with the new fire regulations requiring a large area of the roof be left open for fire fighters. And if you want a green roof or some solar thermal, well, forget about it.

But we are solar PV installers and there are cases when a solar pv installation on Brooklyn brownstones make a lot of sense. Especially if we can maximize the use of space or efficiency of the panels.

That is why we are always checking out the new technology and applications. One of the places to watch is the Solar Decathlon where the best and brightest duke it out to show their inventions, which go way beyond simple solar PV. Like true green builders they integrate the whole thing.

The goal of the decathlon is to build a solar powered house. And these contestants make it look so easy.

Check out the winners.

Team Germany–An entire house covered in Solar PV. Looks really cool! single-crystal PV panels, silicon on the roof, thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide on the sides, custom-made vacuum insulation structural panels, phase-change material in both walls (paraffin) and ceiling (salt hydrate), etc.

Team Illinois–Their house is so efficient it can be heated with a single hair dryer! 30.5 cm of high-performance insulation incorporated into the walls, roof, and floor, laminated bamboo for structural elements, light-emitting diode lighting, etc.

Team California–a monitoring system that displays the house’s performance, a greywater pond, passive solar gain, a solar thermal absorption chiller that operates radiant cooling panels, an 8.1-kW PV system, etc.

Team Ontario/BC–An 11.9-kW PV system, evacuated-tube solar collectors integrated with cascading warm water storage tanks, R-60 insulation, salt hydrate phase-change material in the floor, automated exterior shading, etc.

One of the things that is clear to us as solar pv installers in New York is that we have to start using the south facing sides of the brownstones. When people think solar installation they think “roof”, but well placed panels on the south facing wall can become building integrated and also perform the dual function of shading the widows during the hot summer months when the sun is high in the sky.

During the cold months you want the sun to stream into the house and heat it. It can because during those months it is low in the sky and it passes under the panels.

We are implementing this strategy on the Brooklyn green show house. Installing solar panels on the wall needs to be done correctly so it is aesthetically and technically integrated. But it can be done! And the savings, both in cooling as sun shades and in electric generation make it a really worthwhile investment.