Opinion

The new forces pushing BIPV into the mainstream


09 Feb. 2017 by Jason Deign, Solarplaza

Building-integrated PV has been slow to catch on but increasing interest from architects and developers could now boost adoption.


BIPV


The current European market for real BIPV is worth up to around €25 million and is increasing very fast.

The European market for building-integrated PV (BIPV) could grow by as much as 50% this year amid growing interest for architectural solar applications. Renato Macconi, partner at the Italian architectural solar firm EnergyGlass, told Solarplaza the current European market for real BIPV was worth up to around €25 million and was “increasing very fast.”

Macconi, who will be participating in a Solarplaza webinar about architectural solar on February 22, said architects were increasingly looking to include BIPV in their designs, to add value to their buildings and comply with new regulations. “We’re seeing increasing sensibility for the environment,” he said. “It’s the same reason that makes a person buy a Tesla or an electric bike. People are starting to pay attention to environmental issues.”

Particularly in Europe, BIPV adoption is also being driven by regulations requiring many new-build and renovated homes and offices to be as energy efficient as possible. One way to achieve this is through the installation of traditional rooftop panels. But for design and aesthetic reasons a growing number of architects and developers are resorting to BIPV components such as PV-integrated tiles and PV glass with crystalline or thin-film technology. 

BIPV adoption is also being driven by regulations requiring many new-build and renovated homes and offices to be as energy efficient as possible.

There is also interest in developing architectural solar applications in the US, where last year the cars-to-energy-storage company Tesla unveiled a range of solar shingles that it says will cost less than a traditional roof. However, BIPV development in the US has been hampered by certification, said Macconi. 

Unlike Europe, where the IEC scheme allows for more certification flexibility, enabling a range of glass sizes to be specified under a single certification, in the US UL certification is required and the testing is more stringent and does not cater to the customization needs of the building industry. To overcome this constraint projects either specify standardized UL listed products or seek project based certification where costs can be as high as USD$50,000. At the same time, though, the US market offers the potential savings of the solar Investment Tax Credit for BIPV installations.

It is not clear to what extent architectural solar elements could benefit from the US ITC, said Chris Klinga, technical director at the Architectural Solar Association (ASA). But if the 30% ITC could be applied to the full value of a solar window, it could effectively render them as cheap as traditional glass, he said. “That’s something that needs to be studied.”

Klinga said a typical installed costs for a curtain wall in the US is ~USD $1000 per square meter. To add solar to such a curtain wall may be in the range of $500 per square metre after all material and labor is considered. In Europe, Macconi stated, typical costs were 20% to 30% less.


BIPV Collage


Even in Europe, however, the cost of architectural solar components could be offset by the fact that, unlike traditional PV, they do not require separate mounting and installation. Furthermore, said Klinga, architects and building developers in most global markets might have a vested interest in delivering architectural solar offerings. 

“I see it as an opportunity for the building industry to further its reach and be able to provide energy solutions, which is a value add,” he said. 

Traditional solar was the low-hanging fruit, easy to scale. BIPV was more complicated and expensive.

If building contractors embrace solar then it could allow BIPV to flourish in a market that the solar industry has so far failed to conquer. “It’s the evolution of solar,” said the ASA’s executive director, Browning Rockwell. “Traditional solar was the low-hanging fruit, easy to scale. BIPV was more complicated [and] expensive, didn’t provide the same level of production and a lot more standards were involved.”

With plenty of opportunity in ground- or roof-mounted arrays, the solar industry has focused on cutting the cost of PV through mass production and economies of scale. Rockwell, who will be speaking alongside Macconi and Klinga on the Solarplaza webinar, said the corporate giants now dominating the solar market are poorly equipped to deal with the BIPV sector, which still largely demands bespoke products. 

The global BIPV market grew from 1.5 GW in 2014 to 2.3 GW in 2015 and is set to hit 11.1 GW by 2020.

But a growing demand for eco-friendly and net-zero-energy buildings is leading smaller companies, such as EnergyGlass, Solaria, Lumos and Onyx Solar, to create products specifically targeting the construction industry. Their efforts now appear to be paying off. The global BIPV market grew from 1.5 GW in 2014 to 2.3 GW in 2015 and is set to hit 11.1 GW by 2020, of which 4.8 GW will be in Europe, the ASA says. 

And even though cost remains an issue, BIPV benefits from one factor that is not often seen in traditional solar installations: sometimes the customer is more interested in looks than return on investment. “You can build a plain white façade that costs €20 a square metre or you can coat it in marble costing €1,000 per square metre,” said Macconi. 

“It’s a design issue, the same as whether you use standard solar cells or thin film that looks beautiful but has a third of the production capacity,” he said.


Chris Klinga, Renato Macconi, Browning Rockwell and Anthony Pereira will be speaking in Solarplaza’s architectural solar webinar on Wednesday 22 February, at 16:30 CET. Register now to listen in


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