The term building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) refers to solar elements that are actually an essential part of a building. This could mean anything from windows made of photovoltaic glass to solar panels directly integrated into the facade during construction.
SURE HOUSE utilizes this technology in the flood-resistant storm shutters. These panels collect sunlight when the shutters are in the open position, and this energy is used to power the hot water heater.
This lesser known technology provides a myriad of benefits over traditional solar panel mounting. The first and most obvious difference is the elimination of the bulky racking system. The spatial capabilities of the panels are greatly expanded by this, as they can be installed in many more locations and geometric configurations. The particular modules being employed on SURE HOUSE are flexible thin-film cells. These panels eliminate the heavy glass sandwich layers and replace them with slim layers of a special plastic polymer. The modules are super lightweight, and this enables the homeowner to easily raise and lower the shutters with minimal mechanical intervention.
The plastic also has a much greater impact resistance than glass, so the panels will not crack when struck with debris in a storm event. This is important not only for SURE HOUSE but for all other applications of photovoltaic modules. A great deal of investment goes into these products; no homeowner wants to see them shattered after some inclement weather. It makes sense, then, to utilize products that will last. In the event that some damage does occur, the rack-less mounting system makes it much easier to repair or replace individual modules in a system.
Previously, thin-film solar panels were known to be too costly to be utilized to their full potential. However, the technology has worked its way out of the experimental phase and into the market. As its commercial availability quickly increases, prices are steadily dropping, making thin-film solar integration a viable construction option for countless projects. The earlier into the process these features are conceived, the less it will cost to make the necessary changes to accommodate them.
No longer are solar panels limited to standing as large, stationary structures that are simply attached to existing buildings. Solar power doesn’t have to be an afterthought, but rather a driving factor in design from very early in the process. Once builders and designers embrace this idea, the possibilities are endless. Homeowners need not shy away from solar power due to aesthetics. Photovoltaics are no longer a limiting factor or something to hide. BIPV practice celebrates scientific accomplishments by showing that technology can be beautiful.