Clean Power

Published on July 26th, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


Solar-Skinned Buildings On The Rise

July 26th, 2013 by  

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).

“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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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • Matt

    One of the big benefits of solar that is lost when you built a large remote solar farm. Is that it can be distributed and generate power where it is used. All those power lines with melted insulation don’t need to carry more power. And while not every building/parking lot is a good candidate for PV, there is a whole lot that are. Yes in the core of cities it will be a while before there is a big impact. But you don’t have to go far before the buildings and parking lots can play a big role.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Cost. Large solar farms are the cheapest way to bring more solar on line. And that includes the cost of transmission.

      Right now large solar arrays are financially attractive to utility companies.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Basically the opposite of the situation in Australia. Of course I paid 42 cents a kilowatt-hour on my last electricity bill so things are a bit different here.

      • Matt

        Bob, I wasn’t talking about the cost of building new large scale transmission. If you build a new 1500MW PV, coal, or nuclear plant you need the same large transmission. I was talking about all the over loaded local lines. Maybe it isn’t that way everywhere, but in most US cities that I been to. If the power line run above ground you will see a lot of burn out insulation from the lines having been used from more power than intended and over heating. If the power is used on site you give those lines break. This is a saving of local PV of any large scale power source. Yes mega scale PV is cheaper than small local PV. But the difference is bigger in the US than in say Germany or Australia. And I know you, as a contributor this blog are aware of a lot of “cost benefit” that local PV has that don’t show up at the meter.

        And yes, large scale is much more attractive to traditional utilities companies, that local. Since local PV looks like lost sales to them, just like efficiency improvements.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Consider the coal plants that are now going off line. They weren’t located “downtown”. Their transmission lines are being freed up.

          A prime example is the Intermountain Intertie which was built to carry coal-electricity from Utah to So Cal. That’s now available for large solar installations along its route. (And Utah could get it together and tap their newly found geothermal resources and stick them on line as well.)

          The Intermountain and Pacific Interties are being repurposed to bring late afternoon and evening wind-electricity from Wyoming to the West Coast.

          Then, we don’t need a lot of new generation. We need to replace fossil fuels. We can largely deal with increased demand by demand cutting via efficiency. That means we can put large solar arrays on the same lines with natural gas. The gas plants will be shut down when fuel-free solar is producing.

          Some local lines are overloaded. Certainly not all. Distributing solar around the neighborhood and increasing efficiency will help with that problem.

          If we’re melting insulation off lines (something I’ve never seen) then we have significant overload problems and we are wasting significant power. Distributed solar will help with that problem only when the Sun is shining. If we can’t cut demand then we need to upsize those lines.

          If local distribution is strained and more supply is needed it makes no sense to solely charge solar for improving local transmission. That’s a cost that will have to be born regardless whether supply comes from solar, coal, gas, nuclear, hydro or any other source.

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