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BIPV - Solar Energy That Takes The Place Of Conventional Glass And Roofing

BIPV are photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades.

A promising renewable energy technology that breaks down pre-existing concerns and hesitation about solar energy is called Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). These systems actually build solar cells into the construction of a building. They look as natural as what would have been a conventional roof, window, awning and even concrete. They are often made of flexible “thin film”, which is also a relatively new and exciting technology.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics
Building Integrated Photovoltaics

BIPV systems can provide savings in electricity costs for years to come. In some areas solar energy can almost completely replace conventional electric sources, but in almost every area the electricity provided can at least provide enough benefit to make conversion to photovoltaic worthwhile. In fact, the cost of the technology is coming down so fast that even a minimally effective BIPV system can bring financial reward.

BIPV systems can be made to be “grid-tied”, or interfaced with the local electric utility. That way, not only does the homeowner get “free” electricity, but can also sell it back to the utility. The grid-tied system also guarantees a back-up source of power as necessary.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics

BIPV systems can be designed to blend in and look like conventional building materials and designs, such as:

  • The façade of a building, such as traditional view or decorated glass. This is an emerging technology that has not been perfected, but can still have a significant impact.
  • Photovoltaics can be incorporated into external structures such as awnings. In this case they are obviously most effective in areas or sides of the building that get the most sun.
  • The most common use of building integrated photovoltaics are in roofing systems, where solar shingles or panels are substituted for traditional roofing. Again, these solar cells can often be made of flexible thin film.
  • Skylights made of solar cells can be a very effective form of BIPV, particularly if the face a direction where the sun is strong.
Building Integrated Photovoltaics
Building Integrated Photovoltaics

BIPV has become so advanced that you have likely driven by a structure that uses it and you probably had no idea. In fact, the technology encourages the use of more windows, skylights and built-ins like stained glass. Building and houses with BIPV, far from being less attractive, may actually be the most attractive on the block.

As exciting as the above technologies are, there has even been research about building photovoltaic solar cells into concrete and other building materials. Soon this technology may be widespread and conventional, but for now you can get a head start while saving electricity, reducing your carbon footprint, and serving as a model for others.

What is Photovoltaics?

‘Photovoltaic’ is a marriage of two words: ‘photo’ (meaning light) and ‘voltaic’ (meaning electricity). Photovoltaic panels form part of a solar PV system and create electrical energy from sunlight.

What is “Photovoltaic Technology”?

“Photovoltaic technology” is the term used to describe the hardware that converts solar energy into usable power, generating electricity from light.

At the heart of photovoltaic (otherwise known as PV) technology is a semi-conductor material which can be adapted to release electrons, the negatively charged particles that form the basis of electricity.

The most common semi-conductor material used in photovoltaic cells is silicon, an element most commonly found in sand. There is no limitation to its availability as a raw material; silicon is the second most abundant material in the earth’s mass.

Photovoltaic panels are made up or a series of cells. All these cells have two layers of semi-conductors, one positively charged and one negatively charged.

When light shines on the semi-conductor, the electric field across the junction between these two layers causes electricity to flow, generating DC (direct current).

The greater the intensity of the light, the greater the flow of electricity. A photovoltaic system does not need bright sunlight in order to operate.

It can also generate electricity on cloudy days. Due to the reflection of sunlight, days with slight cloud can even result in higher energy yields than days with a completely cloudless sky.

With South Africa’s record of long sunny days, photovoltaic technology is the perfect way to generate power from such an abundant source.

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