Designing Solar into Our Homes

Currently, solar technology feels like the early days of computing. The emphasis is on function, engineering, and practicality. Most solutions are “add-on” as opposed to “designed, integrated, and seamless”. Homeowners and businesses essentially retrofit solar panels on top of existing roofs. To bring solar to the masses it must be easy to install, intuitive to use, and aesthetically beautiful.

Four years ago, I embarked on a new project in southwest France to renovate an ancient country farmhouse called, Vitarel. My mission was to demonstrate that harnessing solar can be functional, beautiful, and easy to use.

Lowering our carbon footprint starts with consuming less energy in the first place. The farmhouse was completely rebuilt with the highest standards of energy efficiency through improved insulation, LED lighting throughout, superior windows and doors, low-energy appliances such as induction stoves, and the reclamation of rainwater from the roofs into underground reservoirs for land irrigation. Energy consumption is further reduced with smart home technology whereby lights, heat, and irrigation are only utilized when necessary.

One of the most important paths to a sustainable future is renewable energy, and solar is one of the most practical solutions. At Vitarel, all the energy used comes from solar. The pool is covered with a sleek solar canopy that serves two functions: collecting energy while also providing shade during hot weather in the summers. The solar panels are bi-facial photovoltaic, which allows sunlight to pass through the panels and reflect off the pool where the underside of the solar panel capture 30% more energy. There is sufficient excess energy to power an EV car and a 50Kwh Lithium-ion battery that stores energy for nighttime use and power outages. Even after powering the property, there is sufficient excess energy that can be sold back to the grid for others to use.

Solar technology is necessary to move towards a sustainable future. Currently, their engineering is brilliant, but their design has some catching up to appeal more to the masses. We need a broader variety of options for shapes, colors, and finishes. Nothing screams engineered solution more than the predominant 65 inches by 39 inches of black rectangular solar panels. We need to turn solar from a function solution into an emotive commitment to sustainability in the same way Apple turned computers into items we covet and want to interact with, or Nest turned thermometers and room temperature into an appealing topic.  

See videos of Vitarel here
See pictures of Vitarel here

Written by Max Burton, Founder and Creative Director of Industrial Craft
For more information on this project please contact