Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels are the latest innovation to hit the solarBuilding-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels are the latest innovation to hit the solarmarket, increasing the design and installation options for residential and commercial solarconsumers seeking to achieve their energy goals. Unlike “traditional” solar installations, inwhich panels are mounted on frames on top of or nearby the building they provide powerto, building-integrated panels blend seamlessly with other construction materials as partof the structure itself. Whether you are building a new home or commercial facility orretrofitting an existing structure, BIPV offers several exciting design possibilities.
We’re going to focus on the impact this new technology is having on solar design andaesthetics but first should note that integrated solar panels can also be more efficientand less expensive than traditional solar installations. The constant innovation in the solarsector has led to new technologies that are lighter, more durable, and more effective thanever before.
Combining Form & Function
Almost every major solar manufacturer has now released a line of building-integratedphotovoltaic panels, each with its own unique design elements, technical specifications,and capabilities. Some directly mimic roof tiles, like Tesla’s Solar Roof array including “active”(solar collecting) and “inactive” tiles. Others, such as MiaSolé’s flexible solar modules, areflexible and can be fitted onto curved structures or incorporated into framing materials.Some are so thin and transparent that they can be applied to windows or skylights and capture energy without blocking sunlight.
What every BIPV panel has in common is the integration of form and function. As SEIA notes, “they serve as both the outer layer of a structure and generate electricity foron-site use or export to the grid.” This dual function means that BIPV can “provide savingsin materials and electricity costs, reduce pollution, and add to the architectural appeal of a building” while also reducing the incremental cost of solar technology for consumers. Likeany solar panels, they also have an immediate impact on the energy costs of the buildingthey’re a part of.
Solar Design: Blend In or Stand Out?
As a design element, building-integrated photovoltaics offer several new possibilities. Thebiggest impact they are having on solar design is their ability to seamlessly blend into newor pre-existing structures. Now, the first question solar consumers need to ask is whetherthey want their panels to blend in or stand out?While BIPV systems can be completely invisible due to their ability to blend in with (orreplace) other construction materials, they can also be used to advertise the owner’s greencredentials in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. As Solar Professional writes, “BIPV has becomeone of the most powerful visual manifestations of green design… Innovative architects arenow adding BIPV to their design pallet and the creative process.”
For instance, during renovations of the Bell Labs facilities in New Jersey, architects decidedFor instance, during renovations of the Bell Labs facilities in New Jersey, architects decidedto feature a largest-of-its-kind photovoltaic skylight as a way to publicize the company’sdedication to renewable energy sources. As consumers become increasingly attracted tocompanies that prioritize green practices, it’s not a bad idea to put your solar installationfront and center.
On the other hand, home or building owners in areas with historic designations or pickyOn the other hand, home or building owners in areas with historic designations or pickyhomeowners associations can use BIPV technology to experience the benefits of solarenergy without making drastic alterations to the appearance of their structure. Theunobtrusive (or even invisible) visual beauty of these new product lines allows them tobe implemented almost anywhere. Perhaps most importantly, aesthetic concerns are nolonger a barrier to entry for those who want to save money and reduce their environment alimpact.
Beyond Traditional Solar Design
Another exciting element of building-integrated solar panels is the ability to put themalmost anywhere the sun will shine. While most traditional solar installations are on top ofbuildings (where they get the most direct light), BIPV technology can be used on the sidesof structures, integrated into windows, and even incorporated into solar greenhouses,carports (such as this carport we recently created for a client), or shade structures.
Author: Mr. Bob Solger, Specialist in the Innovative Design and Application of Solar Energy Technology