Friday, October 19, 2012

Guide to building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)

The simplest definition of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) would be „photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials“. In this case photovoltaic materials actually become an integral part of the building, and they are already being planned together with the building as its integral part though of course there is always an option for them to be built later on (this is most cases more expensive option).

A Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) includes integrating photovoltaics modules into the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades. By doing this integration BIPV does not only serve as power generator but also as building envelope material, which has double benefits, in both savings in materials as well as lowering the cost of electricity.

The global interest in the building integration of photovoltaics is rapidly growing. In the last couple of years BIPV are being increasingly incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power. Given the current global popularity of solar energy in general this doesn't come as that big surprise. Some energy experts even argue that BIPV is currently the fastest growing segment of the photovoltaic industry.

If we divide BIPV system to its parts we can find following: photovoltaic modules, a charge controller, a power storage system, inverter and other power conversion equipment, backup power supply, as well as different supporting equipment.

China offers large subsidies to BIPV

BIPV systems can either be interfaced with the already available utility grid or they may be designed as stand-alone, off-grid systems. BIPV aren't brand new technology since photovoltaic applications for buildings have been used for almost four decades, as they began appearing back in the 1970s.  

BIPV systems are very complex and require very high level of expertise in architecture as well as civil and photovoltaic engineering. These projects don't come cheap. Only technical experience and knowledge can guarantee the best possible results and return of the investment because poorly designed BIPV systems will need redesign and repair, making high upfront costs even higher.

There are countries that offer additional incentives for building-integrated photovoltaics in addition to their existing feed-in tariffs for stand-alone solar systems. China, global clean energy leader, gives qualified BIPV projects a subsidy equal to 50% of the total investment of project, making it more attractive for investors.