The future of BIPV starts now26. July 2012 By: Marc Thomas, CEO Dyesol, Inc.
The building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) market is projected to see considerable growth in the next four years. BIPV materials have the potential to contribute to zero energy buildings that function as auxiliary power plants, complementing the utility grid to help supply all or most of their own electrical needs, with excess energy sold back into the grid, writes Dyesol’s CEO, Marc Thomas.
It shouldn’t be surprising that energy analysts and other building experts predict strong growth of BIPV technologies, both in the near future and longer term. According to a recent NanoMarkets Report, the current market sits at US$2 billion, and the BIPV glass market alone is expected to reach $6.4 billion in the next four years.
A new report by Pike Research further predicts that the net-zero buildings market will hit a whopping $1.3 trillion by 2035. NREL expects increased demand from architects, designers and property owners and sees near-term potential for price competitiveness, particularly in new buildings, where some installation, transportation and materials costs can be folded into existing building products and construction costs.
Global BIPV market
While BIPV-specific incentives are not widespread, the increasing demand for cost-effective, aesthetically unobtrusive solar materials is a global phenomenon. In some European countries, additional incentives are being offered for BIPV on top of subsidies for stand-alone solar systems.
Since 2006, for example, France has provided an extra premium of €0.25/kWh for BIPV, in addition to the existing incentive of €0.30/kWh. China also announced a subsidy program for BIPV in 2009, offering RMB20/watt. In addition, the government recently unveiled the "Golden Sun Demonstration Project" to incentivize the development of photovoltaic electricity generation ventures and the commercialization of PV technology.
In the United States, meanwhile, residential BIPV solar incentives vary from state to state. Beyond tax breaks for materials, there are incentives that give considerably higher kWh compensation if a BIPV home integrates a feed-in program.
Advantages of BIPV
One of the key differentiators of BIPV from BAPV (building applied photovoltaics) is that BIPV "substitutes" existing building materials. Substitution creates significant economic advantage over BAPV. In new construction, building costs are attributed to facades and glazing products. These building products must be purchased from the suppliers, transported to the site and installed into the building superstructure. Since these costs are already included in the cost of the building, the added cost of enabling the products photovoltaic capability is reduced to the cost of the technology itself, electrical connectivity and inversion.
The original cost of the substrates, transportation, and installation are already included in the cost of the building and BIPV products often offer a higher insulation value, which also contributes to energy conservation. In essence, BIPV will not only generate power, but also reduce energy consumption. Additionally, enabling traditional building materials with high embodied energy costs to help create energy helps offset the manufacturing carbon footprint.
BIPV can be seamlessly integrated into the building envelope – which appeals to architects, designers, builders and property owners. BIPV enabling technologies include crystalline silicon, also known as solar grade silicon; thin film; organic solar cells, which can be processed from solution and offer the potential for inexpensive, large-scale production; and dye-sensitized solar cells, which are made of low-cost materials that do not require elaborate or high energy consuming manufacturing equipment. These third generation solar technologies can be used in a variety of building applications, including roofing, façade, and glazing.
At this stage in the game, the barriers to BIPV integration include policy, building codes and public awareness. Since building products prices are variable by market and application depending on the specifics of the structure, calculating the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) as measured in dollars per kilowatt hour can be a challenge.
However, the value of offsetting existing building materials costs, including the materials itself, transportation and installation must be known, in order to truly assess the lifetime cost of BIPV energy production. LCOE is calculated by summing all the costs incurred during the lifetime of the generating technology, divided by the kilowatt hours of energy produced during the lifetime of the project. It goes beyond just the cost of generation to enable a comparison of different energy generating technologies – of unequal life times and differing capacities – and permit grid competiveness comparisons for different geographies.
In the long term, one challenge for BIPV mass deployment in the US is policy. Current policy requires every different size "panel" to be tested for agency compliance, and building use many different sized glass and/or metal panels in the construction of a building.
In Europe and other countries, the need to test every sized product no longer exists. While the ultimate goal for technology developers is to make BIPV cost competitive with the building materials it replaces (e.g. glass façade, stainless steel, granite, etc.), this can only happen when the energy cost recovery over the lifetime of the building product exceeds the lifetime cost of the PV component of the building product.
Opportunities going forward
BIPV poses an opportunity to play an essential part of in a new era of distributed power generation. While some critical economic and policy challenges exist, the value of generating power directly where it is used, aesthetic designs and flexible module form factors is just starting to be understood, which may help mitigate the barriers posed for current BIPV applications.
About the author
Marc Thomas is the General Manager of Dyesol Limited’s Global Glass Business and CEO of the company’s North American subsidiary, Dyesol Inc,. based in Ohio. Dyesol is a global supplier of Dye Solar Cell (DSC) materials, technology and know-how. Thomas focuses his expertise in transforming innovation into industry and transitioning science into sales.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.