In this article we discuss the integration between energy innovation and architectural design: PV panels blend with the building where they are installed, looking towards a shared future made of functionality and aesthetics.
Photovoltaic gets along with the future of architecture: the latest technological innovations allow PV panels to be integrated in the building itself, and if the integration is planned before the construction you may have a real green building.
They are called Building-integrated Photovoltaics (BiPV), a remarkable solution to start your energy generation in an efficient way, also respecting all landscape restrictions.
What is a building-integrated panel?
Let’s start with a definition: a building-integrated panel is a panel used to replace – entirely or partially – some building materials.
Most commonly, integration involves the roof: the plant is not mounted above the roof shingles or tiles, but it replaces those elements. The plant is mounted on the roof insulation, starting with an airlock, made of an aluminium corrugated sheet, where supports for PV modules hooks are fixed. Building-integrated PV panels don’t affect the building aesthetics, since their thickness is no bigger than the rest of the roof, preserving the properties of both the panels and the roof.
When the panel integration is planned since the design of the building, panels can even replace some structural elements of the building, not only its surface: in the majority of cases the roof itself, sometime the walls.
Total integration on the roof
Sometimes panels replace the whole covering of the building and they work as a proper roof, by means of rigid panels without frame or transparent or semi-transparent glasses or flexible laminate, mostly used on curved roofs. These solutions protect against an excessive solar irradiation but they let the daylight in, while accumulating energy. Most panels are made of mono or polycrystalline silicon, whilst for curved roofs the third-generation thin film is used, since it can generate energy through diffusion and not only through irradiation.
Solar panels integrated into tiles or shingles are another innovative solution for roofs, since they do not get in contrast with specific landscape restrictions.
Façades with integrated solar panels
When a building is designed to have PV integrated façades, solar panels become a “material” to replace bricks and glasses. Panels create the so-called curtain wall, letting the light shining in while absorbing energy, thanks to transparent or semi-transparent modules made of monocrystalline silicon or amorphous silicon.
This approach is commonly chosen for commercial multi-floor buildings with a south-facing façade.
“Shadow” PV plants
The latest technologies allow to plan different solutions in order to create relaxation areas under platform roofs, terraces, canopies or greenhouses, having a high energy efficiency. Commonly in these cases matt modules are mounted at a fixed tilt (more or less 30°). With the new trends in the photovoltaic fields also other smaller architectural elements may be eco-friendly, such as windows, curtains and shutters.
Modern architecture has space and possibilities to integrate PV design elements in the buildings of the future: aesthetics, but most importantly high functionality.
Integrated photovoltaic perfectly shows how to combine business with pleasure, being convenient for:
- architects and designers, who can enrich their offer with different aesthetics and functional variations;
- manufacturer of special panels, characterized by higher margins compared to the traditional roof panels;
- builders and other involved branches, because buildings will have a higher perceived value;
- owners and tenants of those building with integrated photovoltaic, because from the very beginning they find a solution harmoniously integrated in the structure of the building and they don’t have to concern about any further work for panel installation.
No doubt that the technical challenge for builders is huge, since surfaces on the same building may have different sizes and different solar orientation and of course these devices will need maintenance and cleaning. So, it is necessary to efficiently track the performances of the devices compared to their rated output power and to harmonise power generation and energy consumption, by means of storage devices in the building: Regalgrid® technology can make a major difference in managing these issues.