BIPV glass markets to rise rapidly

As BIPV becomes a more usable and popular product, sub-markets like that of glass will also experience growth, according to the report by U.S.-based company NanoMarkets. The BIPV glass market currently has revenues of US$1.5 billion (€1.12 billion) expected for 2012 and this should rise to $6.4 billion (€4.8 billion) by 2016.

"BIPV glass systems," says the report, "are expected to evolve from relatively crude systems with low levels of transparency to true integrations of PV and window glass."

At the moment, the industry standard is to create BIPV glass panels by glazing together small opaque solar panels and window glass in a kind of mosaic. This only allows for uncovered areas of glass to remain truly transparent. Today’s BIPV glass thus provides transparency that is well below 50 percent.

Furthermore, much of what passes for BIPV glass today is really just crystalline silicon (c-Si) photovoltaic panels glazed in with window glass on site, which strains the definition of "integrated" somewhat. The report covers how this kind of integration will develop into something closer to integration, along with possible end games in which smart windows and BIPV functionality merge to some degree.

Thus, as these newer, more developed photovoltaic absorbent materials are utilized, the usability and opportunities in the market will expand.

Market opportunities

The initial markets for BIPV glass are to be found in skylights, facades, spandrels, curtain walls and atrium roofing where high levels of transparency are not required.

The race for more transparent products will see the most competition between competing companies and those that win this battle will inevitably come to be successful in the market. The report sees significantly more opportunities, if BIPV glass would achieve a transparency that is much closer to that of window/vision glass.

"Most BIPV glass today uses crystalline silicon absorber layers which are inherently opaque," says the report. "Better transparency could be achieved at a reasonable level of efficiency using other absorber layers such as very thin layers of CIGS or dye sensitive cells."

Another approach to increased clearness is to use advanced optics to enable the positioning of the photovoltaic panels so that they don’t block sunlight to the same degree as in conventional BIPV glass panels.

The report further posits global construction trends as playing a critical role in the development of the BIPV glass market. Its use in prestige buildings, commercial and government buildings, and residential buildings will provide opportunities, it says.

"In particular, we see a growing role for BIPV to satisfy building codes that call for zero-energy buildings," continues the report. "By spreading costs across both the building energy system (or part of it anyway) and the building fabric, it becomes possible to create a new economics for PV that – at the very least – will increase the size of its addressable market."

The report additionally found that some BIPV glass has already been elevated to "chic" status and as styles and options improve, so will the likelihood that major markets will emerge. They also see the improvements in visuals as a key driver in overall market value.

"Aesthetics may be especially important," it says. "We have already mentioned that BIPV is capable of providing some stunningly attractive buildings of a certain style and in our view, in a few cases at least, BIPV has been chosen for image reasons much more than on the grounds of economics, suggesting that it can contribute towards something we are calling ‘solar chic’.

BIPV may also be important in obtaining LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification, according to the report.

The industry applications for improved BIPV glass are additionally not limited to architecture, but could extend to the automobile and defense industries.

Problems and solutions

At this stage, high levels of transparency in BIPV glass are not achievable without a loss of efficiency and, often, an increase in cost. BIPV glass is also highly customized to the needs of specific projects and quite expensive.

Further, as it shifts from being almost exclusively used in prestige building projects to the broader commercial construction market, tailored products will have to be developed that can be sold through large construction firms and photovoltaic systems integrators.

While the first generation of such off-the-shelf products are likely to embody quite similar technology to that used today, NanoMarkets believes that future generations of BIPV glass products will be characterized by monolithic integration and the incorporation of lighting, dimming and self-cleaning capabilities.

The report goes on to analyze the potentials for BIPV glass products using c-Si, thin film and organic photovoltaic/dye-sensitized cell materials, and provides eight year forecasts in terms of megawatts and square footage shipped, as well as forecasts of revenue generated.

As it stands, in excess of 20 firms are playing an active role in the developing the BIPV glass market today, but a handful of firms stand out for the report as "firms to watch". They cite Mage Sunovation and Dyesol as showing innovation on the materials front, while Pythagoras is demonstrating how optics can be used to improve BIPV glass performance.

The report finally notes that Suntech, the largest photovoltaic panel maker in the world, has dabbled in this area and may have the ability to transform the BIPV glass market by applying the Chinese style economics that currently dominates the conventional photovoltaics sector.