While US makers offer dwindling numbers of Building Integrated PV (BIPV) options for generating solar power, European companies are expanding the range of solar products that allow the integration of solar into buildings, and to integrate both solar thermal modules and solar PV modules into one unified BIPV roof cladding system.
European innovation in building integrated solar is driven primarily by Germany and Spain, where several years of Feed-in Tariffs (the result of EU climate legislation to meet the Kyoto Accord) have firmly established a dependable market, both for developing commercial cladding systems, as well as for residential rooftop applications.
Their solar BIPV modules are now beginning to come down in price.
One example is from 3S Swiss Solar Systems, that makes a combination solar electric and heating module that is certified by the TÜV and available in the US through SunSlates. The company’s heavy duty MegaSlate modular roof system is tough enough to walk on, making it easy to remove and replace modules if needed. Every 100 square feet of coverage produces 1KW of power, making these comparable to regular solar panels in output, unlike most BIPV, which generally is less efficient (takes more space to make equivalent power).
They are designed to go together in an overlapping system, with reinforced plastic sections in-between, which serve both as supporting rails for the solar laminates and as gutters. The laminates are suspended from holding hooks on the prepared roof construction, and are wired with plugs and sockets (tech details).
The slates have matching components that can be used to cover skylight openings as well.
Each MegaSlate module makes either electricity or a solar heated gas. The solar thermal collectors are filled with inert gas that feed into heat pump systems for heating. This means homeowners can produce both electricity and also heating, by warming water for use in radiant heating systems.
The solar thermal collectors have the same dimensions as the photovoltaic modules, are functional and are have the added advantage of perfectly integrated appearance. The modular construction makes installation quick and easy, keeping costs to a minimum.
This double benefit already has the effect of reducing price, by providing two sources of energy off one rooftop installation. Weight and price are the main issues with BIPV.
But 3S Swiss Solar Systems has also been able to reduce the price, by 18% – along with the weight – from 22 kilograms to 17 kilograms.