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Incorporating BIPV Technology into Buildings

Building integrated photovoltaics is a panel structure that replaces roof covering elements. Solutions and advantages

Whether it is a residential building or an office complex, photovoltaics are one of the most common solutions for self-production of renewable energy. Thanks to technological advancements, in addition to energy production, photovoltaics also become a true design element.

Building integrated photovoltaic panels are an example of how it is possible to integrate systems with architecture. These are systems that are designed within the building project itself or, subsequently, architecturally integrated. Therefore, it is not the classic roof-mounted system, but a structure that becomes the covering material at the same time.

An integrated approach is necessary to best implement a photovoltaic system of this type, allowing for the evaluation of all architectural, structural, energy, and functional aspects (and constraints) of the project together. In this case, a photovoltaic software with 3D modeling could be useful, enabling the design of the system directly on the architectural model and the evaluation of different design solutions.

What is meant by building integrated photovoltaic system?

Building integrated photovoltaics represent a perfect combination of design and functionality research. It refers to systems that are designed and developed simultaneously with the construction of the building itself.

They are included from the initial stages of the project, so that the structure is conceived not only to accommodate solar panels in terms of physical space but also as an integral part of the building’s energy system.

The distinctive feature of building integrated photovoltaics lies not only in when it is conceived but above all in the fact that the panels directly replace a structural part of the building itself.

This type of photovoltaic system does not only concern roofs but can also involve facades, windows, and other architectural elements that can be transformed into photovoltaic panels, thus contributing to the generation of solar energy in an integrated and efficient manner.

Therefore, unlike more common alternatives, the photovoltaic system is not just placed on the roof, but the panels become the covering material.

Why choose a building integrated photovoltaic system?

There are several reasons why it may be necessary to consider the installation of a building integrated photovoltaic system. These reasons are mainly attributable to two factors: aesthetic and necessity.

From an aesthetic point of view, a building integrated photovoltaic system offers a visually more pleasing appearance because the solar panels do not protrude from the structure’s envelope. This solution is suitable for buildings with a specific architectural style, such as historic houses, farmhouses, or other buildings with particular architectural features.

The other reason why it may be necessary to install a building integrated photovoltaic system is related to landscape or cultural constraints. These constraints may concern both the building itself and the surrounding area.

In some cases, property owners subject to such constraints are obliged to comply with local authorities’ directives to preserve the area’s aesthetic appearance. Therefore, the installation of a building integrated photovoltaic system becomes the only option to comply with these regulations and, at the same time, benefit from solar energy.

Building integrated photovoltaics: types

The various types of building integrated photovoltaic systems depend on the level of integration with the building surface where they are to be installed.

There are therefore 3 types:

  • Building integrated photovoltaic system on the roof;
  • Partially integrated system;
  • Non-integrated system (in this case, the system is anchored to the building surfaces through the use of specific supports and fastening tools).

Building integrated photovoltaic system

As mentioned earlier, in a building integrated photovoltaic system, the panels completely replace the roof covering elements. In this case, the system serves a dual function: not only producing electrical energy but also protecting the building from the weather.

This solution, however, is also suitable for use in existing structures. In this case, the photovoltaic system will replace tiles or portions of the roof, thus removing the old structure.

Partially integrated system

The partially integrated system represents a compromise between an integrated and a non-integrated system. In this case, the photovoltaic panels, while being anchored to the roof, slightly protrude from the building’s external envelope. They are not an integral part of the building structure but are considered an independent structure.

The installation of panels for this type of system does not alter the structure on which they are installed. They only serve the function of producing electrical energy. This approach is often adopted on pitched roofs, where it is possible to take advantage of the roof’s natural inclination without having to install visible or significantly tall supports.

Non-integrated system

The non-integrated system is anchored to the building surfaces through supports and weights. Since they are anchored to existing structures such as roofs or building facades, the panels will be visible. In this case, the photovoltaic panels serve exclusively the function of producing electrical energy.

Building integrated photovoltaic system

Building integrated photovoltaic system

Building integrated photovoltaics: advantages and disadvantages

The installation of photovoltaic panels in place of tiles offers several advantages:

  • Minimal aesthetic impact: an ideal solution when the building is subject to strict landscape constraints that prohibit the installation of visible panels and support structures;
  • Possibility of integration: photovoltaic panels can be installed on an existing roof, replacing existing tiles, or on a new structure under construction;
  • High energy efficiency: if the system is correctly sized and the panels are properly oriented without obstacles causing shading, high energy efficiency can be achieved.

On the other hand, a building integrated photovoltaic system can be very expensive.

How much does a building integrated photovoltaic system cost?

Analyzing the total cost of a building integrated photovoltaic system requires consideration of various factors such as expenses for module purchase, other components, and labor costs. The size, power, and energy efficiency of the chosen panel also influence the expenditure.