What Is BIPV? Building Integrated Photovoltaics

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The power of the sun is in your hands! The solar industry has grown 33% yearly for the last ten years. Thousands of commercial businesses and millions of homeowners have placed solar panels on their roofs. 

Yet the solar industry has a lot of room to grow. Building integrated photovoltaics is a powerful but largely unknown way to provide electricity for your building and other benefits. 

What is building integrated photovoltaics, and why should you try it out? Here is all the information you need to answer that question and start your life with photovoltaics.

The Basics of BIPV

Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are products that generate solar power and can act as components in your building envelope. For example, a solar panel on your roof can serve as a weather skin for your roof, protecting it from snow and ice. Solar panels can also help with noise protection, sunlight illumination, and safety. 

A building-integrated photovoltaic/thermal (BIPVT) system provides electricity and heat. It can include a heat pump that takes warm air around your panel and brings it into your building. However, it is more complicated to set up a BIPVT system. 

Related: Solar Cooling

Technologies

Traditional photovoltaic cells have several layers of silicon crystals. When solar energy strikes one layer of silicon, it loosens electrons that travel to other layers. This creates an electric current that can flow from the cell into your building. 

You can purchase several different types of solar panels. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so research them carefully before picking the one you want. Pick one type for your entire BIPVT system. All of these panels are compatible with modern electric wiring, batteries, and technology for an uninterruptible power supply.

Monocrystalline Panels

Monocrystalline cells contain one crystal of silicon. The crystal gives electrons room to move around and generate a stronger current, making monocrystalline cells the most efficient cells on the market. You need to purchase fewer monocrystalline cells to generate the same amount of electricity as other types. However, monocrystalline products are expensive; a monocrystalline solar panel costs $1 to $1.50 per watt.

Polycrystalline Panels

Polycrystalline cells contain multiple crystals. Manufacturers melt dozens of crystals together to form thin wafers, giving the electrons less room to move. Though polycrystalline panels are less efficient than monocrystalline ones, they are cheaper. On average, a polycrystalline panel costs $0.90 to $1 per watt.

Thin-Film Cells

Thin-film cells have very thin layers of silicon or another substance. They are less efficient than polycrystalline panels, but their small size and flexibility mean you can place them on any surface. They can fit on any roof, hang on walls, and wrap around railings and circular objects. They are also easy to install and more affordable than polycrystalline panels. 

Do you have questions about different types of solar technology? Contact the solar professionals at C&C Technology Group today!

Applications

You can install a BIPV system in one or more of three application areas. You can put the system up during any stage of your building life, though it may be easier to install during the construction process of a new building. BIPV systems can work well with smart buildings or more conventional structures.

Roofs

When people think of solar panels, they think of ones that go on rooftops. Many companies specialize in installing roof panels, so it may be easiest to put panels directly on your roof. 

However, panels are hard to install on unusually shaped or large roofs. Consider installing shingles or tiles instead. Solar shingles can replace the shingles currently on your roof and withstand high winds, heavy rains, and strikes from branches and icicles. Manufacturers design solar shingles to resemble traditional roofing materials so they won’t stand out on your roof. 

Solar skylights are solar-powered, opening when the system detects sunlight and closing when the sun starts to set. This function allows you to save on electricity by switching off your lights and turning down your heating system during the day. You can buy skylights with solar glass with small cells that generate electricity. 

Facades

Besides your windows, solar technology can help with other parts of your building facade. You can find windows similar to solar skylights that open and close based on the amount of sunlight. You can also install windows with solar cells inside of them that generate sunlight. They contain glass and plastic that can withstand severe weather and are easily modified with films. 

A curtain wall is a wall of windows that lets light into your room while protecting it from the elements. You can install a wall made of solar glass. If you want privacy, you can make it semi-transparent or opaque. 

If you need cladding, add solar glass or panels instead of concrete or other materials. Solar cladding works best when the surface is facing directly toward the sun. Panels on a vertical wall or at an angle to the sky can produce electricity, but they won’t make nearly as much as ones facing the sun. 

If you need glazing, install ultra-thin solar panels with semi-transparent features. Your panels can produce electricity even while allowing a small amount of sunlight in. Solar glazing works best for greenhouses and rooms that require direct sunlight. 

Externally Integrated Systems 

solar shade canopies 

 

You can easily make a shading system out of solar panels. You can install an overhang over the front or side of your building with panels or solar glass in it. 

If you have an exterior balcony, set up a balcony railing with panels or cells facing outward. The railing is thick and dark enough to provide privacy for anyone sitting on it. You can also install a fence or wall around a garden or an area you want to enclose. Panels can work well as shade canopies for a parking lot or exterior seating area.

Related: The Key to Sustainability Initiatives: Smart Buildings

Benefits of BIPV

Nearly every commercial building should have a BIPV system. Here are just a few good reasons why you should set one up. 

Environmental Friendliness

An acre of solar panels saves 121 to 138 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Solar panels do not create greenhouse gases and are efficient enough that you can decrease or eliminate your use of fossil fuels for electricity. 

By replacing building materials with solar cells, you also reduce your carbon footprint. Using wood, steel, and concrete for your building creates carbon dioxide emissions and pollutes water, land, and soil. 

If you use your building at night, you can install batteries to your BIPV system. Your panels can send excess electricity to your batteries during the day, and you can run your computers off the batteries after hours. 

Increased Profits and Customer Loyalty

60% of customers consider sustainability to be an essential factor in their shopping decisions. 34% of customers are willing to pay more money for sustainable products. 

When you make products using electricity from your solar panels, you can charge more money. You can also increase your brand as a sustainable and environmentally friendly business, encouraging customers to do more business with you. 

Tax Credits

The investment tax credit allows you to claim 30% of the cost of your BIPV system as a tax credit on your federal taxes. You have until 2032 to install your system in your building. 

You can also apply for the production tax credit. For every kilowatt-hour of electricity your system makes during its first ten years of operation, you receive a tax credit of 2.75 cents. You can apply for either credit, but you cannot receive both. Large-scale projects receive more value from the production tax credit, so you should apply for it over the investment tax credit.

Some state governments like Massachusetts offer their own tax credits. Review your local laws with an accountant and a tax lawyer to see how you can qualify. 

Electricity Savings

Your panels will start generating electricity once a company has installed them. You will immediately begin saving money on your electricity bills because you will no longer need to buy as much power from the grid. 

The average return on investment for solar panels is 10% per year, so you will be able to make your money back after ten years. After that point, you will start making money from your panels until they stop working, which is usually around 25 years. 

Some utility companies allow net metering, which lets you sell electricity to utility providers in exchange for credits. If you need to use electricity from the grid, try net metering. 

Adopt some energy-saving strategies to make your panels even more effective. If you run a data center, monitor its energy consumption and turn off any zombie servers. 

Low Maintenance

Manufacturers design their panels to withstand extreme weather conditions, including blizzards and tropical storms. Bricks, shingles, and other common building materials can rip off your building or break even during a typical rainstorm. BIPV can help you save thousands on materials you would have to replace after bad weather. 

Solar panels are effortless to maintain. You only need to clean them a few times a year with water. Rain can wash away the grime on the panels. Unlike wood and asphalt, algae, mold, and mildew do not grow on most panels.

Ready for a low-maintenance, environmentally friendly BIPV system for your data center? Hire the data center planners at C&C Technology Group now!

Additional Factors to Consider

Besides the type of panels, there are other factors you should consider to create the best system possible. 

Environmental Factors

The most obvious environmental factor to consider is the weather. Your panels can produce electricity on cloudy days and at night, but they are less effective than they are during the daytime. You should set up your BIPV system in a sunny area with clear access to sunlight. 

Temperature can also affect your system. Hot days can reduce the output of your panels, while cold days can increase the output. The higher your server room temperature, the more electricity your servers will expend as heat. Take steps to monitor and reduce the temperature, like installing thermostats in your room. 

Solar irradiance is the output of solar energy from the sun. Look at maps of solar irradiance to determine how many watts you can expect your panels to generate. If the irradiance is low, you may not make a return on investment for an extended period of time. You may want to install thin-film panels to keep your expenses down.

Smog, salt, and other pollutants can affect your panels. You can position them away from roads and bodies of salt water, but you will still need to clean them regularly. 

Panels are at maximum efficiency when they are perpendicular to the sun. Take a look at your latitude and place your panels at an angle equal to it. If your latitude is 45 degrees, your panels should be 45 degrees. It’s okay to put them at a different angle but get them as close as possible to the latitude.

Structural Factors

two people working on solar panels

The main structural factor you should think about is the type of panels you are selecting. Get an estimate for how much the installation costs for each type will be and when you can expect a return on investment. Remember that you can apply for tax credits that make monocrystalline panels more affordable than usual. 

Your building may be able to run off of its BIPV system without connections to the electrical grid. In order to do so, you need to install batteries, generators, and other on-site energy storage and creation tools. These resources have their own installation and maintenance expenses, so factor them into your budget. 

Facing your panels toward the south allows them to receive sunlight throughout the day. Figure out what parts of your building face south and prioritize putting panels at those locations. Panels that face east or west produce 20% less energy than if they were facing south. 

Your panels should be in an area free of shade. Track how trees, neighboring buildings, and other objects cast shadows on your roof and surfaces. It’s okay if your panels have a little shade, but you may need to tilt or move them in order to have better access to sunlight.

Related: The Green Data Center: 5 Ways Carbon-Intelligent Computing Is the Future

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