Incorporated Power Generation into Functional Structures is the integration of systems into functioning
House with photovoltaic panels installed
House with photovoltaic panels installed
buildings that harness and produce energy. This practice is sustainable if the energy produced is efficient, affordable, clean, and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.[1] A prime example would be a residential home that uses photovoltaic panels to produce and use solar power[2]



Ancient water wheel (noria) and aqueduct in Hama, Syria
Ancient water wheel (noria) and aqueduct in Hama, Syria
It could be argued that the oldest examples of power generation in structures would be the burning of biomass to heat a building, a process which has existed almost as long as buildings have. However, the earliest mechanical systems to incorporate power generation into structures would be the water wheels used by the ancient Greeks over 2000 years ago.[3] Additionally, between 900 and 500 B.C., the Persians used windmills for food production.[4] Outside of assorted variations on hydropower and windpower systems, there were very little major advancements in power generation for structures until the Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution

In the early 19th Century, numerous advancements were made in power generation and its integration into structures. In 1839, French Physicist
Alexandre Edmond Becquerellar first observed the photovoltaic effect which is the basic physical process through which a photovoltaic cell converts sunlight into electricity.[5] This would become the basis for modern solar panels used on structures today. In 1880, the Wolverine Chair factory in Michigan was the first to incorporate hydro-electric power by using a water turbine to power 16 brush arc lamps.[6] At the Chicago World Fair in 1893, the growing popularity of wind turbines was evident as 15 windmill companies showcased their wind turbine designs. However, despite all these advances, with the establishment of the first central electric power plant in 1882, the majority of power generation was and continues to be supplied by central power plants as opposed to being incorporated into the structures being supplied with the powers themselves. [7]


Much of the modern development of sustainable power generation for structures began with the creation of the EPA in December of 1970.[8] The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) enforced many laws and regulations that encouraged more environmentally friendly methods of resource usage and energy production. The eco-friendly or “going green” idea has continued into the present, and strides have been taken by some individuals and communities to develop self-sustainable power generation from renewable resources including building-integrated photovoltaics (solar panels), wind turbines, Micro CHP, and other nuances such as harnessing wasted energy in flushing toilets.

Another organization that has lead the charge in the integration of sustainable power generation systems is LEED. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design is a globally recognized building certification program that encourages advancements in sustainability in building construction.

Variations of Power Generation

Solar Power
Diagram of solar power system
Diagram of solar power system

Structures are built with the roof, skylights, or facades covered in photovoltaics that convert sunlight to electrical power that can be used throughout the structure. There is often a generator installed to take the power that is not directly being used. If there is a shortage in power (such as at night) then the generator will draw power from the grid. This is the most commonly found integrated power generation on structures to this day. Due to the fact that this is the most efficient renewable resource we are able to capture so far. Incorporating this into structures meets the environmental (no carbon emissions), economical (tax incentives), social (there are procedures and panels now where it is not noticeable that the structure has solar paneling) requirements for sustainability.[9]

Wind Power

A wind turbine is either built into the structure or the structure itself is a wind turbine that creates power, along with serving the purpose of a functional structure. While wind is highly renewable resource, the effectiveness of a wind turbine is dependent on the variability of the wind at the location of the building. In many cases, a wind power based structure will have to draw power from a power plant more often.[10]


A method of utilizing the ground heat of the earth to help improve efficiency of heating your structure. A pipe is fed down into the soil then back up to the structure, when the heat is produced and fed down into the earth it comes up to the structure 3 to 4 times as effective.[11]

Biomass combustion system diagram
Biomass combustion system diagram

The burning of biotic matter (not fossil fuels) to created steam or smoke to turn a turbine to produce power. These can often be incorporated into structures on garbage furnaces and fireplaces. Since the application of this is only in certain instances this is the least common method of power generation in structures.[12]


Although the main focus of incorporated power generation into functional structures is to sustain the environment for future generations and to become self-sustaining without using up the resources we have, the rising prices of energy due to depletion of fossil fuels and government tax incentives for anything green or eco-friendly lead this being an economically viable option as well.[13] Improvement in social and aesthetic sustainability will be significantly more noticeable when the concepts becomes more advanced. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing structures are modeled after “nature concepts”. Architects and engineers use this strategy to make structures look like they belong in the environment without disturbing it. The advances of social sustainability in incorporated power generation are leading to a more natural look and less noticeable power generation systems.[14] One of the main goals of power generation is efficiency. Efficiency of power generation of renewable resources continues to grow due to overwhelming emphasis on preserving the environment. Efficiency of producing energy can be improved without impossible economic barriers; however, an issue that has plagued the energy market is delivering the power produced to the costumer with the best efficiency. There is an estimated 30% efficiency from getting the power to the plant to the customers.[15] This is where the whole idea of incorporated power generation into functional structures gets its backing and reasoning. If there wasn’t such a bad efficiency of getting the power to the structures then renewable energy farms, such as solar panel fields, wind turbine farms, geothermal, MicroCHP, and biomass plants would be more common and would be sufficient for sustainability. When incorporating the power generation into the structure you are utilizing most of, if not all, of the power produced.[16]

Construction Applications


The LEED certification program offers premier marks of achievement for buildings. LEED certification gives construction companies incentive to build sustainable and efficient structures. LEED offers four certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These certification levels are based on a point system determined by pre-set credit categories for each type of construction project. LEED certifies 5 types of construction projects: Building design & construction, Interior design & construction, Building operations and maintenance, Neighborhood development, and Homes. Essentially LEED encourages projects to strive to be as sustainable as possible. This encourages further research and development for incorporating power generation in functional structures.[17]

Net-Zero Structures

The Net-Zero or Zero energy structures measure the amount of energy produced from the structure compared to the amount of energy used by the structure.[18] Ideally in construction purposes you want to rely the least you can on nonrenewable resources. These structures strive to account for no used energy and no carbon emissions. The amount of energy used to create them is called embodied energy. The Net-Zero structures produce power for themselves and others, but at times draw from the grid when power is unavailable.[19]

Example Structures

CIS Tower

CIS Tower in Manchester, England
CIS Tower in Manchester, England
The CIS Tower in Manchester, England, which houses the Co-operative Banking Group, is a prime example of a functioning structure incorporating solar power generation. In June of 2005 CIS was looking to renovate their headquarters and decided that they would take a sustainable approach. The £5.5m project received multiple grants, further proving the point that sustainable construction can be economically viable since many organizations will fund projects with a goal of sustainability. The exterior of the building was covered in 7,224 photovoltaic modules. The energy from this system generates enough electricity each year to light an average three-bed house for over 305 years. The building annually saves over 100 tons of CO2 emissions.[20]

The Dynamic Tower

Dubai is known as the city of the future, and home to some of the most advanced, tallest, and mind boggling structures in the world. There is a planned structure that incorporates the most significant power generation in history called the Dynamic Tower or the Da Vinci Tower. There are 78 floors, each are separate from the next. There are 77 full size wind turbines in between the floors that allow wind to blow through them. The tower will produce
enough power for the building and will be a power plant for the city itself.[21] This structure will not only produce a fair amount of clean energy, but will have the ability to be controlled to achieve a certain shape or rotate a certain way which gives the structure extreme social interest. This is a perfect example of sustainability in incorporating power generation into functional structures, because it will continue to be beneficial to the economic, environmental, and social factors of sustainability in Dubai.

La Maison du Developpement Durable

Translated as The Center for Sustainable Development, this building in Montreal, Quebec has a platinum LEED certification. The building contains a five story green (or living) wall that helps to purify and humidify the indoor air as well as lowering the temperature up to 5 degrees Celsius. The building's green roof can also absorb 23,000 Liters of rainwater. This is 23,000 Liters of
View of the roof of the Center for Sustainable Development
View of the roof of the Center for Sustainable Development
rainwater that does not drain into Montreal's storm system which limits the number of times that the sewer system overflows into the river. The building also uses 28 geothermal wells drilled 500 ft below the building to provide the structure with all of its heating and cooling needs.[22] These are just a few features that make Montreal's Center for Sustainable Development one of the most sustainable energy efficient buildings in North America.

Financial Considerations

The popularity of incorporating power generation into functional structures is growing as incentives for such projects continue to grow. Whether you are considering building a home, industrial, or government building there is funding available in the forms of tax credits, grants, loans etc. at the state, local and national level. The EPA website offers an extensive list of agencies that are willing to financially aid those who intend to construct a green building:

In addition to the initial financial aid in constructing an energy efficient building, incorporating power generation into a structure will also save you money in the future. There are initial expenses that come with the addition of a power generating system but a large portion of those costs can come from the outside funding available and the energy costs that are saved down the road are more than worth it, assuming that the power generation system is efficient. For more information, this link leads to an extensive report on the financial benefits of sustainable design:

Recent Research

For further research, view the following links:



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  4. ^ (2014). "History of Wind Energy"., <> (Dec. 1, 2014)
  5. ^ Zamostny, David. (2011). "Solar history: Alexandre Edmond Becquerellar"., <> (Dec. 1, 2014)
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  11. ^ (2013). "Home Power Generation"., <> (Dec. 3, 2013)
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  13. ^ (2013). "Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency"., <> (Dec. 3, 2013)
  14. ^ Fisher, David. (2013). "Green engineering in architecture"., <> (Dec. 4, 2013)
  15. ^ Johnston, David. (2013). "Zero energy homes"., <> (Dec. 1, 2013)
  16. ^ Wollenhaupt, Gary. (2010). "3 ways to generate electricity at home"., <> (Dec.1, 2013)
  17. ^ (2014). "LEED"., <> (Dec. 1, 2014)
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    Johnson, Lacey. (2012). "Net-Zero Energy Buildings Take Hold in U.S.". scientificamerican, <> (Dec. 3, 2013)
  19. ^ Johnston, David. (2013). "Zero energy homes.", <> (Dec. 1, 2013)
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    (2014). "CIS 'Solar Tower'"., <> (Dec.1, 2014)
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    Parag, Deulgaonkar. (2013). "Rotating tower in Dubai"., <> (Dec.4, 2013)
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    Lagacé, Jacques. (2014). "Designing for Sustainability"., <> (Dec. 1, 2014)