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Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV, is a form of photovoltaic technology where solar panels are incorporated into parts of a building. The PV panels serve the dual purpose of generating electricity while serving the functions of those parts.
BIPV is not a brand new solar technology, but it is relatively new compared to conventional building methods and energy sources. Despite being around for several years, BIPV is still not well understood among professionals in the construction industry.
This has resulted in the slow up-take of BIPV throughout most parts of the world. Nevertheless, its application prospects are becoming brighter as the years progress due to several factors.
The challenges to be overcome in the broader application of BIPV are manageable. We discuss these challenges and the potential solutions in this article.
Prospects of BIPV
In summary, the world market for solar technology is on a growth path. The growing electricity demand supports it, rising investments in the renewable energy sector, and favorable government policies globally, encouraging solar-based systems.
This trend will positively impact BIPV. In fact, a report stated that the global BIPV market is projected to reach US$39.9 billion by 2027. The 424-page report presents concise insights into how the pandemic has impacted production and the buy-side for 2020 and 2021.
The projection was based on the 2020 global market value of US$12.7 billion amidst a COVID-19 pandemic. The cumulative average growth rate of C-Si or thin-film segment of solar technology was initially projected to record 17.5%. The figure was readjusted to 20% for the next 7-year period after analyzing the pandemic’s business implications.
In terms of the BIPV market, the U.S. already stands at US$3.4 billion in 2020. China is forecast to have a market size of US$9.4 billion by 2027.
Other noteworthy markets like Japan and Canada are expected to grow by 12.8% and 15.7%, respectively. In Germany, it is projected to grow about 14% CAGR.
These factors will, directly and indirectly, influence the growth of the BIPV market:
1. Support by government incentives and policies
An example of this is the U.S., which implemented solar tax credits in 2019. The incentive was offered to companies that lowered installation costs of solar power systems by 30%.
Aside from tax credits, other forms of government support, including feed-in tariff, reduced import duty, financial assistance, net metering, subsidies, and tax benefits, are expected to fuel the adoption of solar cell modules.
There is the EU 2030 energy target on the regional scale, which is a mere 9 years away from 2021. The framework targets a minimum of 32% share for renewable energy in the region’s energy usage.
The participation of 27 countries in this framework is bound to impact the demand for solar technology. One method for expediting photovoltaics’ adoption is via BIPV, where existing building stocks are renovated to decarbonize.
To cite another example, the European Parliament and the Council introduced the Directive 2010/31/EU on buildings’ energy performance with the concept of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) in 2010. The directive applies to all new buildings to be built from 2021 onwards.
2. Reducing the cost of solar technology
With the support of such government incentives, the cost of solar power equipment and devices is declining. Another factor contributing to the lower cost of solar is technological developments, which lower production cost and enhance performance efficiency.
The reducing cost, enhancements in conversion efficiencies, and increasing focus on optimizing levelised cost of energy are expected to fuel demand for solar cell modules. These will consequently encourage the adoption of BIPV.
3. Increasing adoption of photovoltaics in the residential sector
The growing energy storage system adoption in this sector bodes well for the solar cells modules market. A few factors spur it.
One is the improving awareness of energy conservation among consumers. Another is the rising adoption of decentralized energy production systems, especially in developing economies.
More and more people see the benefits of off-grid electrification. Adoption in the urban sector, on the other hand, is likely due to the green technology subsidies provided by governments.
4. Improvements to solar technology
Ongoing research on photovoltaics has given rise to the improved production capacity of existing solar power systems and products. Meanwhile, newer photovoltaic technology is being created.
The new and improved BIPV technology takes into account efficiency and aesthetics, which is a key consideration amongst architects and building owners.
Colored solar modules are already available in the market, from regal gold to anthracite to pure white. These can perform as well as the more conventional PV modules. It is now even possible to print images on the solar panels.
5. Initiatives promoting BIPV
Several initiatives have been carried out to promote and facilitate the adoption of BIPV over the years. For instance, the IEA SHC project ‘Task 41’ and BIPV products database.
The product database groups existing BIPV products according to categories with case studies and examples of BIPV applications. Task 41 provides an interactive collection of case studies of high-quality BIPV architecture and other matters to make architectural design a driving force for solar energy use.
The Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) in Trentino Alto Adige study showcases 16 successfully built BIPV projects across several integration typologies (these include office, residential, agricultural, industrial, community, religious, commercial, and transportation buildings).
The varied examples in the study suggest a high replication potential of BIPV in other European regions. The study also demonstrates that the BIPV system capital cost lies in an acceptable range. It is even cheaper than some standard passive building materials (e.g., glazed curtain walls, stone, and others).
It also revealed the BIPV sector’s challenges, as discussed in the next section of this article.
Challenges faced in BIPV implementation
The barriers are mostly perceptions by BIPV stakeholders, namely, architects and contractors. This was revealed in several international surveys.
For instance, the Trentino Alto Adige study revealed that the costs of BIPV are not too far from a standard non-integrated PV solution. Yet, the cost is thought to be a barrier among stakeholders.
Another study by German research center Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) engaged with stakeholders from all fields of BIPV last year. The results show that it is not BIPV technology that is lacking.
Rather, participants from the construction industry admitted that there is a knowledge gap in terms of the potential of BIPV and enabling technologies. According to the study, BIPV stakeholders do not have sufficient information about the technical and creative possibilities for integration into their projects.
Consequently, there are many reservations about BIPV. Misconceptions arise regarding unalluring BIPV installations’ designs, perceived high costs of BIPV, and a prohibitive level of complexity associated with its application.
Stakeholders are also concerned about regulatory compliance, which can make the application of BIPV complicated. This is understandable as construction regulations and those in the energy sector are affected by local regulations.
Also, these regulations differ from one country to another. In some countries, such as in the United States, they can differ from state to state. These differing regulations can make production according to required specifications a little tricky for BIPV manufacturing companies.
On the other scope of things, some markets face barriers in terms of tools for integrating photovoltaics. Most developing countries face this challenge with slower photovoltaic adoption rates.
For a bigger BIPV buy-in to occur, the construction industry and building designers need to be willing to work with new materials and elements. They need to change their planning processes to accommodate BIPV elements.
The future for BIPV remains bright, especially in Europe. This is thanks to the EU 2030 energy target and the EU policy-oriented to promote the Near Zero Energy Buildings concept and Renewable Energy Sources exploitation.
More buildings in Europe are using off-grid solar units rather than being reliant on electricity from the grid. This is evidence of energy integration in action as it becomes more important to meet the new building concept and its energy provision.
The potential for BIPV growth is tremendous. According to research done by PVSITES, only 2 percent of the PV installed globally was integrated into building skins in 2016.
That figure is insignificant compared with the volume of global consumption. As of 2016, about 350 to 400 million solar modules were produced and sold annually.
To put matters into an even better perspective, over 70 percent of the energy produced worldwide is consumed in cities, which creates up to 50 percent of all greenhouse emissions. The room for expansion of BIPV installation in cities is undoubtedly there and yet to be fully explored.