Carnegie Mellon University
Energy Performance Impacts from Competing Low-slope Roofing Choic.pdf (4.55 MB)

Energy Performance Impacts from Competing Low-slope Roofing Choices and Photovoltaic Technologies

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posted on 2018-07-01, 02:50 authored by Amy L. Nagengast

With such a vast quantity of space, commercial low-slope roofs offer significant potential for sustainable roofing technology deployment. Specifically, building energy performance can be improved by installing rooftop energy technologies such as photovoltaic (PV) panels, and/or including designs such as white or green roofs instead of traditional black. This research aims to inform and support roof decisions through quantified energy performance impacts across roof choices and photovoltaic technologies. The primary dataset for this research was measured over a 16 month period (May 24, 2011 to October 13, 2012) from a large field experiment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on top of a commercial warehouse with white, black and green roof sections, each with portions covered by polycrystalline photovoltaic panels. Results from the Pittsburgh experiment were extended to three different cities (San Diego, CA; Huntsville, AL; and Phoenix, AZ) chosen to represent a wide range of irradiance and temperature values.

First, this research evaluated the difference in electricity production from a green-moss roof and black roof underneath photovoltaic panels to determine if the green roof’s cooler air increases the panel efficiency. Second, separate studies examine 1) average hourly heat flux by month for unobstructed and shaded roof membranes 2) heat flux peak time delay, and 3) air temperature across roof types.

Results of this research show green roofs slightly increased (0.8-1.5%) PV panel efficiency in temperatures approximately at or above 25⁰ C (77⁰F) compared to black roofs. However in cool climates, like Pittsburgh, the roof type under the PV panels had little overall impact on PV performance when considering year round temperatures. Instead, roof decisions should place a stronger emphasis on heat flux impacts. The green roof outperformed both black and white roofs at minimizing total conductive heat flux. These heat flow values were used to develop a new, straight-forward methodology to roughly estimate heat flux impacts of different roof types in other climates using ambient temperature and solar irradiance. While managing heat flow is important for building energy performance, roof choices need to include a systems level analysis encompassing a year for the specific region to best quantify the overall energy impacts


Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Civil and Environmental Engineering

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chris Hendrickson, Scott Matthews

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