Past event

Our solar-powered future

The BPCC’s Real Estate & Construction meeting for the fourth quarter of 2020 was again held online, and focused on photovoltaic power-generation for commercial and industrial buildings. Entitled Can our Buildings become our Power Stations? the webinar looked at the technical, commercial, regulatory and fiscal aspects of solar panels.

Jonathan Steer, executive director, and head of building consultancy CEE & Poland at CBRE, began by looking at the drivers for all stakeholders in the commercial real estate market and noted that the sub-set of drivers related to sustainability and renewable energy was pushing all stakeholders in the same direction.    UN Sustainable Development Goals and ESG reports focus the minds of corporate decision makers, prompting them to take action on sustainability and being seen to be green by their own stakeholders, shareholders and staff. The BREEAM and LEED standards have become ubiquitous in buildings used by corporates; the next steps will be towards increased use of renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics and wind-turbines. Mr Steer contrasted Poland’s stock of warehouses – relatively new and rising rapidly – to an aging stock of office buildings with a falling pipeline of future builds. Incorporating photovoltaic solutions into new-builds, and applying them to recently completed buildings, will result in a significant early improvement in the carbon footprint of the logistics and warehouse sector as opposed to the office sector where the nature of the buildings and relatively older age will slow this progress, he suggests. Of importance to landlords and tenants, in the case of solar panels applied to existing buildings, is to resolve the commercial challenge of how are the costs and the benefits are to be shared.

Dr Dávid Forgács, director of knowledge management at Saule Technologies, introduced the company and its game-changing discovery – the ink-jet printing of perovskite, a translucent crystal with photovoltaic properties, onto plastic films. The Wrocław-based company is commercialising the invention of Polish scientist Olga Malinkiewicz, and by next year, it should have a nominal production capacity of 40,000m2 of the film. Because it can be translucent and weighs a fraction of that of conventional crystalline silicon solar panels, it can be applied in many sectors such as BIPV, BAPV (building integrated/building applied photovoltaics), e-mobility, IoT as well as to office windows - vertical facades that cannot be put to use to generate solar energy with traditional crystalline silicon technology. Dr Forgács said that within three to four years, perovskite film should be readily available to apply to existing buildings on a utility scale, or to integrate them into new ones. However, given the fact that there is huge interest in perovskite, the first implementations of IoT (solutions for retail), installations of BAPV (such as energy-harvesting sun blinds) as well as e-mobility (car-port AC) are planned for 2021.

Another huge advantage of perovskite is that it can be ink-jet printed onto custom surfaces in different shapes, and the company also has an option to adjust the colours, making it far more interesting for architects than the dark-grey rectangles of regular size that conventional panels are made of.

Adam Targowski, sustainable development manager at Skanska, took up the theme of green building and how responsible contractors seeking to reduce the carbon embedded in the construction process can achieve that aim. Mr Targowski mentioned Skanska’s climate target – to be CO2 neutral by 2045. This target covers the entire supply chain and developed-buildings footprint. He said that conventional solar panels – which can only be placed on part of the roof of an office building – typically generate between 20 and 40kW of energy, when that same building may need up to 1MW on a hot day when the air conditioning is set to maximum. Perovskite film is seen as an answer, he said, which is why Skanska has decided jointly with Saule Technology to develop new photovoltaic solutions for the construction sector. Mr Targowski also mentioned applications of perovskite film powering the Internet of Things (IoT), with small cells custom-made to small devices around a building that make it smarter by collecting data.

The economics of photovoltaic technology are still driven by the regulatory environment, said Bartosz Clemenz, counsel at law firm Hogan Lovell’s real estate practice. Without state subsidies, fossil fuels remain cheaper than energy from renewable sources, although the price differential is falling all the time. It is around 1: 1.5 at the moment. At present, entities that generate solar energy for commercial purposes are subsidised under an auction system. Apart from the auction system, under the Polish Renewable Energy Act, both individuals and entrepreneurs can sign a contract with a grid company, based on which the grid company takes the surplus of their renewable energy produced (solar energy on sunny days). The owner of a building with solar panels installed can take this energy back from the grid when the sun isn’t shining and the panels do not generate sufficient energy. In simple terms, the grid works as a storage system, because battery storage is still too expensive on the larger scale. This is possible thanks to specific mandatory legal provisions aimed to promote the development and use of the renewable energy sources, said Mr Clemenz.

The tax treatment of solar energy was covered by Zbigniew Marczyk, counsel at Hogan Lovell’s tax practice. There are two main issues here, he said – one was the difference between the tax write-down of investment into building-applied PV (at an annual 7-10% depreciation rate) and building-integrated PV, where only 2.5% annual depreciation could be written down, over 40 years. The other was VAT chargeable on the surplus electricity sent to the grid. Was this being ‘sold’ to the grid? In which case, 23% VAT applies. Or was it being ‘stored’ in the grid, to be balanced against energy taken from the grid when the sun wasn’t shining? In that case, there’s no VAT chargeable. There have been different rulings here; Mr Marczyk advised getting a binding tax interpretation.

The meeting was concluded by a panel discussion with the speakers and a Q&A session.

The next wave of human development will be driven by the need to reverse climate change. EU funding from the 2021-2027 financial framework will total €1.8 trillion, much of which will be earmarked for the green economy. Banks and investment funds are increasingly looking to finance environmentally friendly projects. How will this affect the real estate and construction sectors?

Two acronyms that will become commonplace soon are BAPV and BIPV. The first - Building-Applied Photovoltaics - is about adapting existing buildings to be able to generate electricity by installing photovoltaic panels. The second - Building-Integrated Photovoltaics - is about designing and constructing new buildings around technologies that will not only optimise energy use but will generate their own from the outset.

BAPV and BIPV will be a challenge for real-estate owners and their facilities managers. Corporate tenants of commercial and industrial real estate will be motivated by their ESG (environment/social/governance) commitments to choose properties with BAPV/BIPV. What will this mean for the construction sector? What solutions are on the market today - and what will become available in the near future? How will smart grids, smart cities and the Internet of Things affect the buildings of tomorrow?

2020-12-03, 10:00 am

Venue: Online
Organiser: British Polish Chamber of Commerce