Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)

The segment of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is finally beginning to emerge in the marketplace after more than 20 years of R&D and fancy showcase projects, due to the vision of leading solar technology and material developers. Exciting new products that incorporate PV modules into actual building materials such as curtain walls, windows, and roofing shingles are now available from a variety of developers in the BIPV supply chain.

Earlier generations of PV for buildings utilized solar panels mounted directly onto the building roof with minimal aesthetic considerations. This concept was replaced by building-integrated PV systems, where the PV modules actually came to replace parts of the building envelope, providing functional considerations and lowering costs. More recently, thin-film PV technologies have begun to enable the seamless integration of PV onto buildings, and will likely succeed in markets where their superior flexibility, minimal weight, and improved ability to perform in variable lighting conditions gives them a significant competitive advantage over conventional solar technologies.

A definition of BIPV and BAPV

There is some confusion regarding the definition of BIPV within both the PV industry and the building industry. GTM Research defines BIPV as building-integrated PV, which requires that the building team along the entire supply chain - including architects, building designers, engineers, building owners and utility companies - work together to design and build the photovoltaics into the building’s very "skin" as an element, from the inception of the project onwards. BAPV, on the other hand, is defined as building-applied PV. In this process, the photovoltaics are a retrofit, added to the building after construction is completed.

Solar roofing; solar tiles and shingles

A number of BIPV developers are active in the solar roofing market segment, including United Solar Ovonics, Dow Solar, Applied Solar, Corus Colors, and the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium. Perhaps the most popular integrated system in the U.S. consists of PV modules using mono- or polycrystalline cells to replace conventional cement tiles. These PV tiles are installed on roofs in a way that blends in with cement tiles, following the contours of the roof. In many cases, one module can replace up to three or four tiles, and reduce the number of necessary connections. The PV array weighs less than the cement tiles, but the roof has to be engineered for the correct weight and compliant with local and national roofing requirements, since it represents the first line of defense against the weather.

Solar Wall Applications

Recent years have seen a rapidly growing interest among contemporary architects in the use of curtain walls to create innovative, attention-grabbing building façades. With new concerns about the environment and a focus on developing affordable building envelopes, the curtain wall represents a microcosm of the issues that are important to architecture: climate responsiveness, energy use, the intelligent utilization of resources, and advancements in digital design and fabrication.

PV facades with modules by Sulfurcell (left) and Schott Solar (right)
PV facades with modules by Sulfurcell (left) and Schott Solar (right)
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