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Innovations in BIPV: Will BIPV’s Growth Follow PV Market?

published: 2011-07-11 10:13

Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) refers to solar materials incorporated into the design and construction of a building. Instead of using standard build materials, such as windows, roofing shingles, building envelops, builders replace those items with materials that function as solar power generators. Most BIPV systems tie into the utility grid; however, BIPV systems also work for off-grid applications.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings consume 39 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S. Seventy percent of electricity produced in power plants go for buildings operation. Inefficient and poorly insulated buildings account for 34 percent of the energy loss.

The continual decline in the prices of solar cells and modules has caused a record amount of installed capacity for solar generation system over the past few years. The drop in the cost of material also has an affect on the cost of BIPV solar power systems. Like the PV and large-scale solar markets, falling prices should spur demand for BIPV solar power systems.

Recent reports by solar market analysts state that the BIPV market, expected at around $2 billion dollars by the end of 2011, will realize significant growth over the next four to five years. Conservative estimates put the market at $4 billion dollars by 2016. A more aggressive outlook has the market growing to $11 billion dollar during the same period. Installed capacity has been predicted anywhere from 2.4 GW to 3.6 GW. Traditionally, Europe, particularly Germany and France, has led BIPV installations due largely to feed-in tariffs. However, Asia and North America markets have started to gain steam.

Leading edge BIPV manufacturers find themselves with an opportunity to a hefty chunk of the solar energy market. They must focus on developing innovated building integrated PV products, which give customers two advantages - a pleasing appearance and cost savings. BIPV products will gain wider acceptance as they become more unassuming and harmonies with standard building features.

Following are some of the more innovative BIPV products currently on the market, or close to commercialization:


One of the most innovative products for roofing systems combines seam metal roofing with thin film photovoltaic laminates. The SunNet BIPV roof systems, made by New Jersey metal roofing manufacturer Englert Inc., capture the sun's radiation and convert it to 15 to 20 percent more electricity than other solar modules on the market, according to Englert. The lightweight and sturdy panels have the flexibility to fit curved roof configurations. Available in power ratings of 68 W to 136 W, the SunNet BIPV roof systems can meet the electrical needs of residential and commercial structures.

Another product, which has been on the market since 1994, has just received approval by CEIAB, France's Evaluation Committee for BIPV products, to go on the list of approved CEIAB solar products. Clients that select Suntech's Just Roof BIPV system panels can receive the highest feed-in tariff available in the country. Over 4,000 homes around the globe have the Just Roof product, which the company boasts, has not had a “single instance of water leakage.”

Appropriate for new construction and for existing buildings, the product also works in tandem with shingles, metal roofing or concrete tiles. The company released a second-generation panel that takes advantage of the gains in efficiency. The black panel features aluminum frame and other components. The modules interlock and have a special cap that covers the gaps between modules. The 140-180Wp rating and four-step installation process makes the panel practical for homes and small commercial structures.

A Chinese company, Suntech Power Holdings Co., Ltd. (NYSE: STP) designs, develops, manufactures solar products for all segments of the market. It is also a player in the design and development of commercial and utility-scale solar power plants in China and the U.S. The company has headquarters in China, Switzerland, and San Francisco.


Conserval Engineering Inc., which has operations in The United States, France, and Canada, introduced the SolarWall technology in the 1990s. The United States Department of Energy rates SolarWall in the top two percent of “energy related inventions.” The technology consists of an unglazed solar heating system that installs on walls. The metal modules, which come in a variety of colors, pre-heat ventilation air drawn from the exterior of the structure. The company states the system replaces 20 to 50 percent of the fuel used for commercial, institutional, industrial and other non-residential buildings. Earlier this year, the company introduced the Night Solar. This technology functions much like the SolarWall, but offer an additional functionality - it cools the building at night.

The Night Solar system connects to the air handler and the roof air conditioning. The system heats the structure during daylight hours. After sundown, the Night Solar cools the structure ten degrees (5c) Fahrenheit below the surrounding temperature. The technology works in dry warm climates - at night.

Color Modules

Over the year, many traditional mono and multicrystalline solar modules manufacturers have streamlined their product designs and made BIPV more visually appealing. However, the fact remains that solar panels still roll off the assembly lines in the same lonely, repetitive color schemes. Architect and developers have simply taken what has been available and incorporated them into their buildings. Well, China-based Linuo Power Group, which makes and market solar cells, modules, and PV power generation systems, has developed a technology that allows for c-Si Panels to display various cell color features.

The process uses a membrane plating technique, which colors the solar cells and simultaneously restricts the affect on the conversion efficiency of the cells and panel. Building designers are no longer limited to single color panels common with BIPV systems. The module has an aluminum- alloy frame. A highly transmittance tempered glass allows the Ci-cells to generate electricity at maximum efficiency. The panel is available for residential as well as commercial applications.

Solar Paint

Mention solar panels and what comes to mind for many people are the bulky modules use to generate power for most solar energy systems. BIPV systems have come far in making BIPV products more attractive. One such product remains in the development phase, but inches closer to commercial introduction -- solar paint. Soon, an individual will have the ability to paint on a clean energy power system in much the same way as painting a house. For example, property owners can have a steel roof panels installed or clad their home with steel siding and coat the component with solar paint.

As a natural conductor when coated with solar paint, steel contain electrons that interact with solar paint. This interaction creates electricity, which feeds into the collection circuit. Researchers continue to work on solving the issue that causes the paint to accelerate the deterioration of metals and plastics coated with the paint. Used in its current state, it would necessitate the premature replacement of roofing or siding materials.


The BIPV segment of the solar industry continues to commit funds to R&D to create products that simplify integration and enhance attractiveness. The distinct quality of structures makes it challenging for manufacturers involved in the design and fabrication of materials for the mass market with the exception being solar roof shingles. As BIVP moves toward wide acceptance, creating a uniform standard for products, such as facades, roofs and shades, should help quicken expansion of the building integrated photovoltaic market.

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