BUFFALO, NY – In an age where technology is advancing at lightning pace, function and form must go hand in hand. The solar industry is no exception to this rule. More and more, customers interested in solar are not only looking for the energy producing benefits of solar modules, but they want them to look good while doing it. Residential customers in particular are becoming more and more concerned with the look of traditional solar panels sitting on their roof. That’s why a number of solar manufacturers are moving into Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV. BIPV is a branch of the solar field, which integrates the technology found in traditional solar panels and the materials conventionally used in building construction.
Residentially, the most common BIPV application is the solar shingle. Solar shingles can actually replace the shingles normally used in roof construction, and can even be integrated with existing shingles. The efficiency per square foot in current solar shingles is far less than that of modern solar panels, but the technology is definitely advancing quickly. The other drawback to the solar shingle is cost. Due to the fact that solar shingles are filling two purposes, energy generation and construction, they tend to come with a premium price tag. However, if you are looking to integrate shingles into a new-build design, the price tag may be worth it to combine the costs of both the roof with the benefits of solar.
Aside from shingles, there are a number of other BIPV applications available on the market. Thin film PV technology is being used more and more due to its application versatility. Thin film is a more flexible material and can actually be mounted directly onto a metal roof using an adhesive and thus avoiding any roof penetration. Although lower in efficiency, thin film performs better in low light and high heat conditions.
A bifacial panel is another building integrated application, which is similar to a traditional panel but uses a glass on glass design with a double-sided PV laminate technology. Generally these can be applied to awnings, pergolas, and other common structures that allow light to pass through. The benefit of this technology is the combination of the direct sun exposure as well as the exposure to any light reflected from the other side, increasing the efficiency and energy generated.
In the commercial solar world, many companies are developing various forms of PV glass for window applications, skylights, awnings, canopies, and building facades. The result is beautiful, sleek building designs with all the benefits of an energy generating PV system.
BIPV systems are popping up left and right and may be the future of the solar industry. The technology is constantly making headway and advances in efficiency will bring the cost down consistently. With advances in BIPV, solar installations will not only eliminate their aesthetic stigma, but eventually add to the aesthetics of both residential and commercial buildings alike for a bright beautiful future.