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Around the world, major government and social initiatives are driving demand for sustainable building design and CO2-free energy. In recent years, as the volume of solar cells being manufactured and installed in buildings has increased, the cost has lowered significantly.

The United States government has supported this effort through the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Since the program was implemented in 2006, the residential and commercial solar ITC has helped spark 10,000% growth in the U.S. solar industry, with an average annual growth of 50% over the last decade alone. The ITC currently offers a 26% tax credit for solar systems on commercial properties and can be applied to customer-sited commercial solar systems. The ITC credit can apply to aggregate investment in both energy-generating glass panels and electrical components.

Like sustainability, design expectations for commercial buildings are also at an all-time high. In glass specifications, today’s buildings can demand any combination of solar control performance, ultimate transparency, tinted aesthetics and colorful treatments.

 

Where to Use BIPV Modules

Building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass modules have emerged as a solution to satisfy these challenges—CO2-free energy generation and design utility—while replacing conventional building envelope materials, such as wall cladding or roofing. In fact, BIPV glass can be used to enhance virtually any exterior element: balustrades and balconies, skylights, roof elements, carports, and more.

BIPV Glass Modules.

BIPV glass modules can be integrated into most standard glass framing and building envelope systems. Photo courtesy of Vitro Architectural Glass

Solar panels.

Solar cells are often used for “solar painting,” leveraging light and shadow. Photo courtesy of Vitro Architectural Glass

Most notably, BIPV glass modules can perform the functions of classic glass facades, vision glazing, and spandrel glass. In these applications, the solar module replaces conventional building panels and functions as external weather protection for the facade. Tailor-made solar modules comply with all design requirements for glass facades and can be installed with most conventional glass framing systems. For structural glazing, modules utilizing tempered glass with inter-window strips can be integrated into building envelopes and roof surfaces adjacent to heated rooms.

BIPV also can be used for sunshading elements, not only capturing sunlight to generate energy, but also protecting against the sun and glare. BIPV overhead glazing, canopy structures, and skylights can harness “solar painting,” a term often used to refer to the interplay of light and shadow resulting from the spacing between individual solar cells. In addition to generating power, BIPV glass balustrades and balconies can highlight the architectural character of buildings and their surroundings while meeting requirements for safety or accident-proof glazing.

 

New Design Possibilities

A BIPV module typically consists of solar cells laminated between two glass lites—these can be comprised of virtually any glass product and with any high-performance low-emissivity (low-e) coating to provide yet another measure of environmental performance.

BIPV Glass Modules.

BIPV glass modules can be used with virtually any glass substrate or low-e coating to achieve desired aesthetics. Photo courtesy of Vitro Architectural Glass

This means BIPV can meet a range of design goals. Designers can realize dynamic, colorful concepts with backpainted BIPV spandrel glass. Blue, green, gray and bronze tinted glasses can also help realize vibrant designs. For ultimate transparency and maximum solar cell performance, low-iron glasses with high visible light transmittance (VLT) also can be used.

The BIPV panels’ solar cells themselves can be arranged in rows, alternating patterns, and other configurations. Multiple photovoltaic (PV) crystalline silicone technologies also can impact the appearance of the solar cells and their power generation performance. While monocrystalline PV renders a black appearance on solar cells with maximum energy-generation performance, polycrystalline PV delivers a striking blue appearance with slightly reduced performance. For a patterned appearance and higher visible light transmission while retaining some of the energy generation benefits of monocrystalline PV, monocrystalline PV strips are also available.

For decades, glass has been seen as one of the world’s most versatile, beautiful, and sustainable building materials. Now, glass is now more than just an idea generator—it’s a power generator. Today, glass can collect clean energy, compounding the product’s powerful benefits.

By Lauren Black