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Integrated Solar Modules: The Next Step in Solar Design & Technology

Integrated Solar Modules: The Next Step in Solar Design & Technology

As the need for serious progress towards meeting renewable energy goals and sustainability practices becomes more and more urgent, the solar industry is responding by making it easier than ever before for consumers to adopt technology that mitigates our impact on our environment. Solar technology companies continue to grow and innovate their product offerings in order to provide consumers with more efficient, less expensive, and more aesthetically-pleasing options.

Over the past few years, there has been a push to make solar panels less intrusive, longer lasting, and more effective. As a result, integrated solar modules are arriving on the market and increasing the design and installation options for consumers seeking to achieve their energy goals.

Integrated Solar Technology

Integrated solar modules, also known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), are different from “traditional” solar installations (picture solar panels affixed to rooftops or to metal frames) in a number of ways. While different manufacturers and products mean that not every integrated solar module is the same, the primary difference is that these new solar panels can be directly integrated into building construction. So, rather than building a mount and frame for panels on top of a roof, for instance, an integrated panel serves as the roofing material itself.

As the SEIA specifies, “Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are dual-purpose: they serve as both the outer layer of a structure and generate electricity for on-site use or export to the grid.” This means that, unlike traditional installations, there is often much less technology exposed to the elements, as connection points, microinverters, and power optimizers are housed inside the panel rather than being external components.

Benefits of Integrated Photovoltaics

This new technology has been developed in response to consumer’s desires as well as the logistics of solar installation and maintenance. The resulting products are easier to install (especially when integrated into initial construction, but also when retrofitting existing structures) and maintain over the lifespan of the panel, which is similar to that of “traditional” external panels at approximately 25 years.

Solar Power World notes that “Installers love that integrated panels just plug in to each other without any high voltage DC. This makes installation much safer and panels can be shut down individually if needed.” In addition, “because of their plug-and-play technology, integrated systems can be expanded without problems” which allows consumers to easily scale their installations up or down as their needs change.

For consumers, integrated photovoltaics require less maintenance and may experience fewer complications as a result of housing more components internally. These panels are also less susceptible to environmental factors such as wind, rain, and hail because they are integrated into the building structure rather than separate from it.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect for solar consumers, however, is that integrated panels can be seamlessly included in the design of their homes or buildings. As design elements, they can be almost invisible or create visual interest of their own if desired. Integrated panels are rated for roof construction and are just as watertight, insulating, and durable as the traditional roofing materials that they replace or interface with.

Products to Consider

Among the innovative new products that are beginning to surface on the market are several different takes on integrated panels. Tesla, whose new technologies always generate plenty of press, has released a line of solar roof tiles with options that include textured, smooth, Tuscan, and slate. The “active” solar tiles look exactly like “inactive” tiles to create a truly seamless look. Sunflare’s flexible SUN2 cell modules are ultra-thin and can conform to irregular roof shapes because they do not require framing or glass coverings, while 3 IN 1 solar tiles offer a wide variety of colors and finishes, including completely concealed panels.

Another product line (which we’ve discussed using to create aesthetically pleasing rooftop installations) is CertainTeed, a construction materials company that has recently expanded into solar tiles. Their Apollo II tiles match the profile of other concrete tiles to create a seamless, watertight roof with solar capabilities. MiaSolé offers flexible solar modules that can be fitted onto curved structures or incorporated into framing materials. Their product is so lightweight and low-profile it can even be used on the roofs of semi truck trailers.

As more options continue to become available to consumers, they will have a wealth of options to consider when integrating solar panels into new construction or retrofitting existing structures to include seamless solar capabilities. It’s an exciting time to be a solar designer, and Solar Design Studio looks forward to sharing these new possibilities with our clients as we create PV systems that accomplish their unique goals.

Would you like to learn more about cutting-edge solar technology and how it can save you money and reduce your impact on the environment? 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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