Energy Efficiency Becomes More Efficient

Energy efficiency is becoming, well, more efficient as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) technology is expanding. BIPV is a solar technology in which solar sensors or panels are built directly into a buildings materials, such as roof tiles or glass. This allows the buildings solar generation to be planned from the start, enabling architects to design the structure to more effectively use solar energy.

Already, several major buildings worldwide are using BIPV technology. Brazils stadium, due to host FIFAs World Cup next year, is adopting the technology as is a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. Norman Foster, one of the leading architects using BIPV, designed a bank headquarters in Britain, the Co-operative Group Ltd, to have solar cells built into its vertical surfaces.

With new energy policies being implemented worldwide, there is a need to further enhance energy technology. A European directive is requiring new buildings to produce next to zero emissions after 2020, reducing overall emission about 90% by 2050. The US is also becoming a BIPV supporter with the Department of Energy investing $145 million in the technology. Building integrated solar in office buildings and factories which generate energy consistently during daylight hours, whilst not requiring additional expensive land space or unsightly installations, is seen as the most obvious energy solution, Gavin Rezos, principal of Viaticus Capital Ltd, told Bloomberg.

Researchers predict the market for BIPV will greatly increase in the next few years. According to Accenture Plc, the market for solar laid building materials is expected to grow more than $5 billion to $7.5 billion by 2015. They also predict sales of solar glass to reach $4.5 billion and solar tiles and shingles to reach about $1.5 billion by 2015, citing NanoMarkets. Many of these sales are expected to come from residential consumers as Solar Century Holdings Ltd., in the UK, is working to combine solar-generating technology in roof tiles and slates for homes, offices and architectural buildings.

Despite the convenience of BIPV, there are some downfalls. Integrated solar panels are still about 10 percent more expensive than traditional solar panels and they can also be complicated to install. While the individual cells are discreet and easy to integrate, they require cabling and additional elements that need to be carefully incorporated, David Nelson, head of design at Foster + Partners told Bloomberg.

However, the cost of solar energy as whole is declining as centrally produced power is predicted to rise. If more people find alternative energy sources off the grid, utilities could need to raise prices for current customers to maintain the same profit. Some companies are working to keep energy costs low, such as BidURenergy (BUE), which works as an energy broker to give consumers low prices. Yet, even with the help from companies like BUE, some consumers may need to lower emissions, especially with new energy regulations.

Its unclear how soon or how much BIPV will be used in newer building structures. As the need to lower fossil fuel emissions increases and utility prices predicted to rise, more consumers may choose to switch to a different energy source. BIPV might just be that new source and become the standard in construction. Mike Russell, managing director of Accentures utilities group in London, said, Were approaching a tipping point and at some point in the future building integrated solar would be a must-have in the design of any new and significant building.

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