We’re going to focus on the impact this new technology is having on solar design and aesthetics but first should note that integrated solar panels can also be more efficient and less expensive than traditional solar installations. The constant innovation in the solar sector has led to new technologies that are lighter, more durable, and more effective than ever before.
Combining Form & Function
Almost every major solar manufacturer has now released a line of building-integrated photovoltaic panels, each with its own unique design elements, technical specifications, and capabilities. Some directly mimic roof tiles, like Tesla’s Solar Roof array including “active” (solar collecting) and “inactive” tiles. Others, such as MiaSolé’s flexible solar modules, are flexible and can be fitted onto curved structures or incorporated into framing materials. Some are so thin and transparent that they can be applied to windows or skylights and capture energy without blocking sunlight.
What every BIPV panel has in common is the integration of form and function. As SEIA notes, “they serve as both the outer layer of a structure and generate electricity for on-site use or export to the grid.” This dual function means that BIPV can “provide savings in materials and electricity costs, reduce pollution, and add to the architectural appeal of a building” while also reducing the incremental cost of solar technology for consumers. Like any solar panels, they also have an immediate impact on the energy costs of the building they’re a part of.
Solar Design: Blend In or Stand Out?
As a design element, building-integrated photovoltaics offer several new possibilities. The biggest impact they are having on solar design is their ability to seamlessly blend into new or pre-existing structures. Now, the first question solar consumers need to ask is whether they want their panels to blend in or stand out?
While BIPV systems can be completely invisible due to their ability to blend in with (or replace) other construction materials, they can also be used to advertise the owner’s green credentials in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. As SolarProfessional writes, “BIPV has become one of the most powerful visual manifestations of green design… Innovative architects are now adding BIPV to their design pallet and the creative process.”
For instance, during renovations of the Bell Labs facilities in New Jersey, architects decided to feature a largest-of-its-kind photovoltaic skylight as a way to publicize the company’s dedication to renewable energy sources. As consumers become increasingly attracted to companies that prioritize green practices, it’s not a bad idea to put your solar installation front and center.
On the other hand, home or building owners in areas with historic designations or picky homeowners associations can use BIPV technology to experience the benefits of solar energy without making drastic alterations to the appearance of their structure. The unobtrusive (or even invisible) visual beauty of these new product lines allows them to be implemented almost anywhere. Perhaps most importantly, aesthetic concerns are no longer a barrier to entry for those who want to save money and reduce their environmental impact.
Beyond Traditional Solar Design
Another exciting element of building-integrated solar panels is the ability to put them almost anywhere the sun will shine. While most traditional solar installations are on top of buildings (where they get the most direct light), BIPV technology can be used on the sides of structures, integrated into windows, and even incorporated into solar greenhouses, carports (such as this carport we recently created for a client), or shade structures.
At Solar Design Studio, we’re excited by the new design possibilities this technology creates for our residential and commercial consumers. If you’d like to learn more about BIPV technology or begin planning a solar project of your own, contact us today!