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Integrated PV Panels Create New Solar Design Possibilities

Integrated PV Panels Create New Solar Design Possibilities

Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels are the latest innovation to hit the solar market, increasing the design and installation options for residential and commercial solar consumers seeking to achieve their energy goals. Unlike “traditional” solar installations, in which panels are mounted on frames on top of or nearby the building they provide power to, building-integrated panels blend seamlessly with other construction materials as part of the structure itself. Whether you are building a new home or commercial facility or retrofitting an existing structure, BIPV offers several exciting design possibilities.

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!

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What Our Clients Are Saying

I have researched adding PV to my home for several years and have met with several PV providers in the KC area and they tend to fall into two broad categories, the new and low budget operators who got into this to ride the wave and are not that knowledgeable, and the commercial providers who have little interest in working with a homeowner and are geared to providing a much larger system where some economy of scale must come into play. Both my wife and I are architects and we wanted something different and it was challenging to find someone who was interested in doing something out of the ordinary. Neither or those types were interested in working with us as we were trying to create something a bit different. they each wanted to sell us their pre-configured solutions.

 

Fortunately we found Bob Solger. He has been a delight to work with and is incredibly knowledgeable and responsive. We wanted to create a solar carport that would provide cover and protection for our cars, but would also provide shade over part of our patio. In essence, the big idea was to create an outdoor pavilion, when, if we wanted to entertain we could move the cars out of the way and have a large covered area for an outdoor gathering. We had selected the Lumos brand of solar panels as they have a very clean look and are partially transparent so some light filters through the panels creating a mottled light pattern on the ground, similar to the shading from a tree. In addition, the system is set up to hide the majority of the connecting wires in the support beams so when you look up at the underside of the PV roof you see a very clean look. Bob recognized our goal and worked with us to ensure the project’s success. Bob identified a structural engineer to design an elegant support structure and found a fabricator to build it affordably. Finally he connected us with a contracting team to clear the space, provide the footings, retaining walls, and pad, who were every bit as careful with everything as you would hope. They were amazingly accommodating to every request and understood that there were a lot of competing challenges that needed to be resolved so we could fit this all in to a very tight location and make it look like it belongs.

 

The bottom line is that it all turned out better than we could have hoped and while it did cost more than the low ball bids received from some of the low budget operators, it was less than the commercially focused suppliers, and more importantly we got the design we wanted and a well-constructed PV carport that will give us great delight for years to come. The best part is of course the savings on our electric bill, which thus far has been averaging around $200/month. So not only do we have a new carport and entertainment patio that our neighbors have been stopping by and admiring (which given that we live in the older Brookside neighborhood and our PV carport is quite modern, we were much relieved) but, our electric bills have been in the under $10/month range.

 

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob and his knowledge and team for helping to create an amazing PV carport for us. I’m sure you would be delighted with whatever you engage him to help you with.

Dev & Sue Malik

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