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.