Solar-Skinned Buildings On The Rise

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Architects led by Norman Foster have been integrating solar cells into the skin of buildings at locations ranging from Brazilian stadiums to a bank’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. With a bit of momentum, it is hoped that this integrated solar industry will triple its growth within two years.

Dow Powerhouse rooftop solar shingles. Image Credit: Dow Powerhouse.
Dow Powerhouse rooftop solar shingles.
Image Credit: Dow Powerhouse.

This type of solar technology is called building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), and it has some truly outstanding benefits. It can be integrated into a building in such a way that it blends in with the surrounding materials (or, at least, much more so than conventional PV).

You have probably heard the argument that solar power plants have an issue with “sprawl,” due to the large size of solar panels. However, it’s a ridiculous claim, as there is plenty of space on rooftops, carports, etc for solar. BIPV extends the applications to roofs where the owners want the solar PV to blend in, and also to some walls and windows.

“Building integrated solar in office buildings and factories which generate energy consistently during daylight hours, whilst not requiring additional expensive land space or unsightly installations, is seen as the most obvious energy solution,” said Gavin Rezos, principal of Viaticus Capital Ltd., an Australian corporate advisory company (which is investing in the technology).

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“We’re approaching a tipping point and at some point in the future building integrated solar would be a must-have in the design of any new and significant building,” said Mike Russell, managing director of Accenture’s utilities group in London.

Bloomberg writes: “The market for solar laid onto buildings and into building materials is expected to grow to $7.5 billion by 2015 from about $2.1 billion, according to Accenture Plc, citing research from NanoMarkets. Sales of solar glass are expected to reach as much as $4.2 billion by 2015, with walls integrating solar cells at $830 million. About $1.5 billion is expected to be generated from solar tiles and shingles.”

Some have mandated that solar panels be installed on all new residential and commercial buildings. This means that many more people will get to experience solar panels in the future, and may become accustomed to them. At that point, will BIPV still retain its key selling point (that it doesn’t stand out like conventional PV)? Will it see greater demand due to the proliferation of conventional solar panels? Will it really be able to grow as much as Mike Russell and Accenture Plc think it will? Sound off in the comment section below.

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Nicholas Brown

Has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

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