Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV, may sound like a complicated concept, but the technology may become a “household name” sometime soon.
In this 101-style guide, we will introduce building integrated photovoltaics, identify the technology’s top opportunities and challenges, review the different types of BIPV, and showcase the most interesting BIPV applications in use and development today.
But first… what exactly are BIPV?
Encompassing many different types of products, the term “BIPV” can be used to describe any integrated building materials or feature (i.e. the roof tiles, siding, or windows) that also generates photovoltaic solar electricity.
Producing solar power and serving a functional building purpose (i.e. protecting the property, letting light in, or providing insulation), BIPV are classified as “dual-use photovoltaic (PV) technologies.”
With many different BIPV products available now and in the future, the technology has a tremendous amount of potential to redefine sustainable building practices for residential homes, small businesses, towering skyscrapers, sports stadiums, and everything in between.
Pros and Cons of BIPV
Generating solar electricity while simultaneously playing an important role in a building's structural integrity or appearance, BIPV systems are “dual-purpose” construction features that can lower a property’s energy costs with emission-free power, created onsite.
While most people would like to save money by going green, BIPVs also face many challenges stunting their widespread adoption, such as limited availability, high upfront investment costs, and uncertainty for project design, permitting, and performance.
For a detailed analysis of BIPV’s benefits, pros, and cons, you may find this resource from the Department of Energy to be helpful. In short, here is a quick look at the main opportunities and challenges that building integrated PV technologies face today:
|Dual-purpose building features
|Early stages of technology development
|Lower property power costs
|High investment costs
|Emission-free electricity onsite
|Design and permitting uncertainty
|Qualification for green building incentives and sustainable construction certifications
|Specialized maintenance required
|Significant ROI for large buildings
|Out of reach for most residential installations
Popular BIPV Products
BIPVs are helping homeowners, businesses, and communities meet green, renewable energy and sustainable building goals all over the world. While there are plenty of technologies still in development (and you never quite know what will come around the corner next), here are a few of the most prominent BPIV products available to purchase today or in the near future:
Without a doubt, solar shingles (also known as solar roofing or solar roof tiles) are the most widely known building-integrated photovoltaics in use today, and one of the most important BIPV examples. Sparking consumer interest when announced by companies like Tesla, solar roofing is generally seen as an alternative to traditional solar panels, able to generate electricity and function as a roof shingle or tile at the same time.
With the aesthetics of traditional roofing and the power of photovoltaic panels, solar shingles can help homes, businesses, and all other buildings that utilize common roof materials. While the growing market is currently held back by supply chain issues, high costs, and lack of module efficiency, solar roofing has been demonstrated to be a product that consumers want, and many different companies are competing to create viable products.
Companies and products to watch:
Solar Windows & Solar Skylights
Next, solar windows (and solar skylights) are aptly-named BIPV that perform the exact functionality that you might expect. Appearing and operating as ordinary windows, while simultaneously generating emission-free electricity, solar skylights and solar windows are among the fastest-growing technologies in the building-integrated photovoltaics industry today.
Although many labs and manufacturers are exploring the space, commercially available solar windows and skylights are tough to find for sale as an average consumer in the mid-2020s. With that said, there are three primary types of solar window/skylight technologies in use and development today.
First, you have photovoltaic glass which utilizes transparent solar cells to generate electricity in a way that is completely undetected by the untrained eye.
Second, other “solar windows” may be lined with tiny solar cells around their frame, which harness the light captured and dispersed by the product’s special glass pane.
Third, there are also some semi-transparent films or treatments that can be applied to ordinary glass surfaces in order to transform them into “solar windows” or “solar skylights”.
With any type of current or future solar window technology, the goal and results are always going to be the same: to let light in while also creating solar electricity.
Companies leading the way:
Solar Canopies & Solar Carports
Conversely, solar canopies, also known as solar awnings, essentially perform the opposite function of solar windows. While they both are used to generate solar electricity, solar canopies block sunlight out, whether that is on your porch, driveway, or raised above a large commercial parking lot.
Seen in many major US cities today, solar canopies are primarily used as “solar carports” to shade vehicles parked in shopping centers, airports, business campuses, and more. When integrated with electric vehicle chargers, solar canopies can be used to power EVs with pure solar energy.
With options for building integration and standalone installations, solar canopies and solar carports may be constructed in a variety of ways. While there are some prefabricated solar carport and solar canopy suppliers out there, oftentimes these dual-function installations can also be created using traditional solar panels.
Solar Siding, Solar Bricks, Solar Facades, and More
In North America and around the world, BIPV technology is advancing in many different directions with interesting products launching year after year. While there is always something new to explore, sustainable builders may now begin to think about incorporating solar-powered technology into their siding, bricks, facades, and practically every other building feature that is exposed to direct sunlight.
Although options are very limited to purchase, and applications are typically reserved for new construction projects, US and Canadian homeowners and property developers should keep an eye on companies such as Mitrex and RoCo Industries who are leading the way in BPIV product development for solar siding, solar bricks, and other interesting technologies.
The Future of Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)
In summary, building-integrated photovoltaics are an important green energy technology with the potential to redefine sustainable building practices in the 2020s and beyond.
Although many BIPV products are not yet available to average consumers, technologies like solar windows, solar shingles, and solar siding make it easy to envision a future with highly efficient buildings that harness the sun and power our world.
For most homeowners today, you can maximize your energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint by going solar with an array of highly-efficient solar panels. If you would like to discover the benefits of solar on your roof, you can get started with Palmetto today to unlock the solar savings potential of your home.