A promising renewable energy technology that breaks down pre-existing concerns and hesitation about solar energy is called Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). These systems actually build solar cells into the construction of a building. They look as natural as what would have been a conventional roof, window, awning, and even concrete. They are often made of flexible “thin film”, which is also a relatively new and exciting technology.
BIPV systems can provide savings in electricity costs for years to come. In some areas solar energy can almost completely replace conventional electric sources, but in almost every area the electricity provided can at least provide enough benefit to make conversion to photovoltaic worthwhile. In fact, the cost of the technology is coming down so fast that even a minimally effective BIPV system can bring financial reward.
BIPV systems can be made to be “on-grid”, or interfaced with the local electric utility. That way, not only does the homeowner get “free” electricity for their own use, they also can automatically sell it back to the utility. Not only might you receive no electric bills, you might actually receive a check back from the electric company some months! The on grid system also guarantees a back-up source of power as necessary.
BIPV systems can be designed to blend in and look like conventional building materials and designs, such as:
- The façade of a building, such as traditional view or decorated glass. This is an emerging technology that has not been perfected, but can still have a significant impact.
- Photovoltaics can be incorporated into external structures such as awnings. In this case they are obviously most effective in areas or sides of the building that get the most sun.
- The most common use of building integrated photovoltaics are in roofing systems, where solar shingles or panels are substituted for traditional roofing. Again, these solar cells can often be made of flexible thin film.
- Skylights made of solar cells can be a very effective form of BIPV, particularly if the face a direction where the sun is strong.
BIPV has become so advanced that you have likely driven by a structure that uses it and you probably had no idea. In fact, the technology encourages the use of more windows, skylights, and built-ins like stained glass. Building and houses with BIPV, far from being less attractive, may actually be the most attractive on the block.
As exciting as the above technologies are, there has even been research about building photovoltaic solar cells into concrete and other building materials. Soon this technology may be widespread and conventional, but for now you can get a head start while saving electricity, reducing your carbon footprint, and serving as a model for others.