Towards a GIS-based Multiscale Visibility Assessment Method for Solar Urban Planning

Urban areas are facing a growing deployment of solar photovoltaic and thermal tech-nologies on building envelopes, both on roofs and on façades, essential for the realization of the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050. This process often occurs regardless of the desirable archi-tectural integration quality in a given urban context, which depends on socio-cultural sensitivi-ty and on the visibility of the solar modules from the public space. Visibility and visual impact are recurrent decisional factors in spatial planning processes, with practical implications in-cluding touristic and real estate promotion, outdoor human comfort, way finding, public feeling of security and advertisement. In this thesis, the definition of visibility under a geometrical, physical and psycho-physiological perspective is explored, several quantitative indicators being described and test-ed. The objective is to provide a scale-dependent methodology to assess the visibility of build-ing envelope surfaces exposed to solar radiation, which could host solar modules, in urban areas. A visibility index is determined for inclusion as a variable in a multi criteria method, cover-ing areas from the strategic broad territorial scale to the district level, including neighborhoods and clusters of buildings. Accomplished research includes the estimation of public visual inter-est on the basis of crowd-sourced photographic databases, complementing geometry-based parameters such as cumulative viewsheds and solid angles. At each scale, the visibility index is systematically overlapped on an urban sensitivity layer issued from land use and on a spatial representation of the solar energy generation potential, at an appropriate level of detail. Results indicate that stakeholders can reasonably expect to harvest a serious amount of solar energy by means of building integrated solar systems without crucially affecting public perception. In the study area located in the city of Geneva (Switzerland), more than 50 m2 / building of non-visible envelope surface receiving sufficient solar radiation for an economically viable solar re-furbishment is available over half of the buildings. Solar thermal collectors or PV panels in-stalled on scarcely visible surfaces, mainly situated in courtyards, far from the streets or in deep urban canyons, could cover about 10% of the annual heating demand or alternatively, the same share of electricity needs on a district basis. At the same time, plenty of highly visible areas remain available for high-end solar deployments, which could also serve pilot and demonstration purposes.

Scartezzini, Jean-Louis
Munari Probst, Maria Cristina
Lausanne, EPFL

 Record created 2018-09-19, last modified 2018-12-03

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