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Are Building-Integrated PVs Ready To Take Off?

(Credit: Kuby Renewable Energy)

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are not your typical solar panels. In comparison to traditional solar panels, which are attached to buildings, BIPVs are built into the exterior as key elements. Serving a dual purpose – generating clean energy and defending against the elements – BIPVs offer appealing benefits in addition to renewable energy, such as additional savings in materials and added architectural appeal.

A key advantage compared to traditional solar panels is that BIPV systems can provide savings in materials and electricity costs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Though they can be added to a structure as a retrofit, the greatest value for BIPV systems is realized by including them in the initial building design. By substituting PV for standard materials during the initial construction, builders can reduce the incremental cost of PV systems and eliminate costs and design issues for separate mounting systems.

BIPV systems have a number of applications, including but not limited to, integration into the sides of buildings (replacing traditional glass windows), replacing roofing material or the roof altogether, or to create glazing – semi-transparent surfaces often used in skylights and greenhouses.

Take, for instance, the glass skylights of the sun-filled atrium of the Edmonton Convention Centre, installed by Kuby Energy, the largest BIPV installation in Canada. Finding the space to install traditional solar panels can be challenging in places like cities. Meanwhile, “There is so much unused glass surface on downtown skyscrapers and building walls and windows,” says Adam Yereniuk, director of operations for Kuby Renewable Energy.

PV Technical Services, based in St. George-Brant County, Ontario has been installing traditional solar panels for more than a decade. When customers started asking why they had to hire one contractor to re-roof their home first and another to install the racks and panels on top, the company developed its own solar shingle in 2016. Now, for a cost that is similar to a metal roof installation, customers can get solar shingles that both protect the roof from the elements and generate power, which saves a lot of headaches.

While BIPVs have been met with some skepticism, things are changing. Lack of availability, higher up front costs, and some technical and regulatory challenges have been the main barriers to broader adoption of BIPVs. But that is changing as the costs are coming down and more people are realizing that it’s a viable technology. According to a BIPV Market Report, the segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 14.79% through 2025, with the trends towards zero energy buildings globally being a key driver.

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