Solar Panels Could ‘Make Waves’ at City Hall

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Malibu-based Busch Design proposed a set of solar panels to be installed at City Hall that will reflect an ocean wave pattern.

Local designer Doug Busch presented a novel idea for Malibu City Hall to the City Council Subcommittee on Environmental Sustainability on March 9 — one he says would not only make the building look more architecturally and aesthetically pleasing, but would make it the first city hall in the country using the latest in solar technology to achieve “net zero” (the amount of energy used by the building equals the amount of solar energy it generates). 

Known as waffle silicon cells, these types of new solar panels use new glass technology and have a matte surface (not shiny). They come in a rainbow of colors that mask the panel’s inner workings. 

Busch would propose fastening a metal grid to cover the entire exterior south side of City Hall, which has the greatest amount of sun exposure, and also wrapping around for full west exposure. He would then place blue and sea foam green solar panels on top of the grid in an ocean wave pattern. To further enhance the wave effect, some solar panels would be placed on tilted awnings, angling away from the building.

“You’re looking at the panels at different angles as you’re moving,” Busch said. “You ‘feel’ the rolling of the waves because the panels are tilted up at various angles to create a wave-like effect. Schools and other communities would come to see it.”

The benefits he lists for such a project would include strengthening of the Malibu “brand,” establishing the city as a leader in the use of sustainable energy and new technologies, using the high-tech solar installation as an educational tool, and enhancing the building’s LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certification.

The concept was presented to the Environmental Sustainability Subcommittee following meetings with City Manager Jim Thorsen and Deputy Building Official Craig George. 

Busch noted on his visits to City Hall that the windows on the south side of the building get so hot on a sunny day that most of the employees close the shades. “The meeting room windows were so hot you couldn’t touch the glass,” he said. “We measured the glass temperature at 220 degrees.” 

The two City Council members on the subcommittee, John Sibert and Skylar Peak, both said in interviews that they’re in favor of bringing sustainable energy to City Hall, especially one that’s net zero and helps the City save money on its sizable electric bills, due in large part to air conditioning. In 2014, Malibu City Hall paid a total of $74,418 for electricity.

George said, “This is a good opportunity for the city to be involved in solar, and have a different aesthetic look, and be creative … They’re using colored solar panels with no black rings or circles.”

Although Sibert said the City has ongoing programs to reduce water usage and waste and to recycle, no one has been actively championing solar panels. “At least [Busch’s proposal] came along and allowed us to have a discussion about it,” he said. 

City officials recognize that Southern California Edison’s electric rates are only going to go up in the coming years. “It may be important to [explore solar energy options] sooner rather than later,” Sibert said. 

Sibert has actively kept up with interesting solar projects in the local area, including covered parking with solar panels at Oxnard High School and several installations in Lancaster.

At the end of the presentation, the subcommittee had various concerns and questions about costs and financing related to Busch’s proposal and also wondered how his proposal might compare to alternative projects in terms of cost, solar efficiency and power generation.

“We told city staff to come back to committee sometime in May” with additional information, Sibert said. “We’re just exploring to see what’s best for the City. We want to be able to look at alternatives.”

George also said that the idea of going solar is only in the preliminary stages, and that a proposal like Busch’s would probably warrant an “independent evaluation” if the city decided to go further with it. 

Busch, for his part, says that typical solar panels are “ugly,” and why not go with a system that would provide net zero sustainability and a “beautiful aesthetic.” He’d like to see Malibu be a leader and “do something that’s never been done before.”

“Not everything comes down to ‘How cheap can you do it?’” Busch said. “I’d like the community to say it’s worth the extra investment for this design.”

To see the Busch proposal in its entirety, visit the City’s website