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Building with Sunshine
After decades in anticipation, the solar energy market has created a substantial and growing movement to integrate photovoltaics (PV) in buildings, where many of the building components and the solar energy production are one in the same.
RCDD, LEED AP
Smart Buildings LLC
Imagine building where the major components have photovoltaics embedded in the materials and products used in construction; the result being significant onsite production of solar power.
We’re all familiar with or have at least seen solar panels on a building roof or a parking canopy. The solar panels have really been the face of solar energy to date, although solar heat can provide energy as well. Integrating photovoltaics in a building is something completely different.
After decades of anticipation, the solar energy market
has created a substantial and growing movement to integrate
photovoltaics (PV) into buildings, where in many of the building
components and the solar energy production are one in the same. The
approach makes sense; solar energy in the building would generate power
where it will be used so, and there is no need for any significant
transmission or distribution. This eliminates any power losses and it
is important to note integrating solar power in buildings doesn’t
necessarily take up additional land or space.
Integrating solar cells into buildings focuses primarily
on two aspects. One is the facade, which essentially is the building
exterior. Facade systems include curtain walls (outer walls which are
not structural), and spandrel panels (a wall between the head of a
window and the sill of the window above in a buildings of two or more
floors) and glazing. The use of buildings integrating PV in the
building “skin” replaces the conventional envelope materials, thus
reducing the cost of the integrated PV.
aspect of integrated building solar energy is the roofing system. This
includes tiles, shingles, standing seam products for steel roofs and
skylights. For example there are now solar shingles which look like the
traditional asphalt roof shingles, and metal roofing with 16%
Besides solar facades or roofs there are innovative
products such as walkable PV floors, transparent or colored PV glass,
outdoor benches and tables. Even the development of solar-powered
concrete is underway.
The integration of photovoltaic into buildings may have
started with the research and development of “solar panel windows” as a
solar collectors, which is now a reality and is in the market.
Wiring is embedded in the window frame and can provide direct current
or be connected to a central power inverter to convert the direct
current from the solar window to alternating current that is then fed
into the electric panel for the building. This technology shows
tremendous potential. Some of the current versions of photovoltaic
windows can transmit more than 70% of the visible light, similar to
tinted glass windows already in use. The power conversion for the
initial design of the windows was low but has steadily improved. One
research team calculated that even with 5% efficiency the windows could
generate over 25% of the energy needs of a building. Besides energy
generation, the windows could also reduce infrared radiation, thus
reducing thermal loads and operational costs.
The Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org)
states: “PV specialists and innovative designers in Europe, Japan, and
the U.S. are now exploring creative ways of incorporating solar
electricity into their work. A whole new vernacular of “Solar Electric
Architecture” is beginning to emerge.”
It’s safe to say that integrating photovoltaics into
buildings is innovative and will be disruptive for the traditional
design and construction industry. If however the approach provides
beneficial results, such as lower energy and construction costs,
greater utility, scalability, and creativity, building owners and
contractors may see it as an opportunity and be attracted to its
potential. Integrating photovoltaic into the building will change the
approach and aspects of building design, with a clear priority of
maximizing solar energy products and materials that can produce a
substantial return on the investment.
It is one thing to install a solar panel, and quite
another to construct a solar building. So designing and constructing
such a building will require some re-educating and training of
engineers, architects and contractors, as well as possibly alter job
responsibilities, trades and skills. One could expect that
substantial professional industry associations could assist in
developing design guidelines and training.
Integrating solar into buildings makes
sense for new construction where a building owner, related architect
and engineers can plan and design the integrated PV. This is referred
to as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Existing buildings
integrating photovoltaics are referred to as building-applied
photovoltaics (BAPV) and are likely to be more difficult. Whether the
building is new or existing the architect, engineer or contractor has
to evaluate a proposed design or the existing building related to solar
access and identifying potential use of photovoltaic systems.
Other aspects of designing photovoltaic into the building involve the
building’s location, its latitude, its structural aspects, nearby trees
or buildings, shadowing, average temperatures onsite, etc. These
factors must all be taken into account during the design stages where,
the goal is to achieve the highest possible value for the BIPV systems.
The majority of buildings using solar power are connected to a larger utility grid because the opportunity of using solar power for the entire building may not be possible. The building owner can operate the integrated solar power independently but connectively with the grid provides a backup and could present an opportunity to sell power back to the utility. Both the building owner and the utility benefit with the grid being connected to BIPV. The on-site production of solar electricity is typically greatest near the time of a coinciding with the utility's peak loads. The solar contribution reduces energy costs for the building owner while the exported solar electricity can help the utility grid during the time of its greatest demand.
disadvantage of solar power is that it clearly cannot be created at
night or during times of cloud cover. Solar panel energy output is
maximized when the panel is directly facing the sun. This means that
fixed locations have a reduced energy production when the sun is not at
an optimal angle, unlike the solar "farms" that mount PV panels on
towers that can track the sun to keep the panels at optimal angles
throughout the day.
cells convert about 20% of the sun’s rays to electricity. While
solar power can be a substantial initial investment, there is minimum
maintenance and after buying and installation it provides free energy.
The capital cost of solar power, batteries and storage has continued to
fall so that in many countries solar is cheaper than ordinary fossil
fuel electricity from the grid. As the price of solar electricity
continues to come down every year, more and more countries will benefit
from making the switch to solar when new capacity is added. The
development of ultra-thin, lightweight, and highly flexible solar
solutions is key to the BIPV market.
Japan, and the United States have accounted for the majority of new
solar energy capacity with growth in Latin America, Africa, the Middle
East and Europe particularly Germany. In 2014 solar power accounted for
more than 55% of new investment in renewable power and fuels. Industry
analyst firm n-tech Research predicts the total market for
building-integrated solar photovoltaic (BIPV) systems will grow from
about $3 billion in 2015 to over $9 billion in 2019, and surge to $26
billion by 2022, as more truly "integrated" BIPV products emerge that
are monolithically integrated and multifunctional.
the cost of solar goes down subsidies will likely disappear. Success of
BIPV will provide opportunities and major changes, and create new BIPV
businesses. Manufacturers and construction companies would likely
partner. WBDG has suggested a need for a “solar energy architect” but a
team of systems integrators, construction firms, installers,
manufacturers and contractors will be needed.
Interestingly, some think the commercialization of BIPV should primarily emphasize aesthetics of the materials and products. Different colors of PV windows would allow some distinct and artistic aspects, but some may want the materials and products to look more traditional, an example being roof shingles. Solar panels on a roof of an old building can be an eye sore, so the aesthetics of BIPV may allow for more acceptance. With the PV being embedded in the materials and products no one really notices the PV aspects. Smart aspects of BIPV could be automation related to energy, system integration, and building energy management systems.
of the other issues related to BIPV include the development of building
codes and specific standards, economic incentives from local, state or
federal governments, optimal system orientations, the service life of
the products and materials, their durability and capability of
withstanding the weathering process, cost, and performance.
amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast
that in one year it is about twice as much as will ever be obtained
from all of the Earth's non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural
gas, and mined uranium combined. Successful deployment of BIPV,
combined with energy efficiency initiatives, can lead us to the goal of
net zero buildings.
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