Integrating expertise

BRE held the 3rd in its series of Building-Integrated Solar conferences in October: BIPV3 – Separating Fact from Fiction. Building-integrated PV is a small but rapidly expanding niche within the solar industry, which we at BRE passionately believe is the future for PV on buildings.

At the larger scale, eg office tower facades, installing BIPV requires a high level of skill and knowledge from installers, and many more parties are involved, typically, client, architect, consultant, building engineer, BIPV manufacturer, installer, glazing contractor, electrical engineer, etc. However, simpler installations, such as small PV roof tile systems, can often be carried out by an MCS-approved electrical contractor and roofer team with minimal extra training.

Some truly inspirational designs are now starting to pop up across the country. Our conference was inLondon, soLondondesigns were prevalent: an amazing PV louver array planned for the Frances Crick Institute was one of many projects presented. This unusual design adjusts its angle to balance the requirements for daylight and solar gain control within the building, whilst at the same time generating electricity. TheHeronTower,London, which has one of the largest glass PV facades inEurope, is also a must-see for anyone with an interest in BIPV. Next time you pass through Kings Cross Station, or approachBlackFriarsBridge, take a look up… the list is expanding rapidly.

You may think that this has little to do with the average installer (especially if you do not live inLondon), but some interesting points came up at the conference:

–          BIPV installations, whilst eligible for FiTs, are starting to be driven by national regulation (e.g. planning requirements coupled with building regulations), and this trend is set to continue.

–          More retrofit BIPV solutions are starting to emerge, especially where glazing or façade or roof coverings need to be replaced, so the market is potentially larger than just new build.

–          With the standard module retrofit market becoming so competitive, installers with BIPV capability may start to have an advantage over the next few years.

Cost is still perceived to be an issue, but many are still just looking at the price tag and FiT return, without appreciating the value of BIPV as a building material offering multi-functionality and aesthetic design options. Whilst the cost of BIPV will always be higher than for standard framed modules, it has fallen to some extent with the fall in silicon prices. What is needed now is solid, reliable, easily accessed information for the whole industry, along with high quality training. These are some of the aims of the National Solar Centre currently being set up by BRE.