The Aesthetic and Cost Promise of BIPV
Published: February 17, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials Renewable Energy

The Aesthetic and Cost Promise of BIPV

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is one of the biggest hopes for turning PV into a substantial industry that might eventually be self-sustaining without government subsidies:

·       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 improved aesthetics associated with BIPV is also another factor that NanoMarkets expects to grow the BIPV market.  For those whose tastes are distinctly in the modern era of architecture (or perhaps in the post-modern era), the BIPV buildings that have been built to date would certainly also qualify as beautiful.  Certainly they are in contrast to a large—and very visible—panel on a rooftop rack that might be considered ugly by many different tastes.

However, while BIPV may be the best hope for a PV industry that can survive without so much government largesse, this should not be taken to mean that the BIPV market is free from government influence.  In particular, we see a growing role for BIPV to satisfy building codes that call for zero-energy buildings.  BIPV may also be important in obtaining LEED certification.

In addition, it is perhaps worth mentioning that while direct subsidies for PV are under threat, there are too many of them, and they are too diverse, for them to disappear completely.  And there are some subsidies that specifically apply to BIPV.  Such special BIPV subsides are available in China, France and Italy.  Germany had them, but they have gone now; perhaps this is a sign where the other BIPV subsidies are eventually headed.

Is Transparency a Selling Feature for BIPV?

Most BIPV products are not transparent, rather they are opaque products—principally siding and roofing products—into which PV functionality has been integrated in some way.  Transparent BIPV products—by contrast—address a very different marketplace. These are used not for siding or roofing, but rather for skylights, spandrels, facades and shading structures.

But even such applications are in fact, only partially transparent and while they could not be addressed by other kinds of BIPV product, high levels of transparency in BIPV glass are not achievable without a loss of efficiency and often an increase in cost.  Nonetheless, transparency is the major factor that distinguishes the BIPV glass from other kinds of BIPV and, as a result, it will receive growing attention from BIPV glass firms, both as a way to compete against each other and against other forms of BIPV.

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