BIPV fenestration products could generate up to half the electricity needed in the country

Experts at GlassBuild America solar seminar discuss products and potential business opportunities
Sahely Mukerji
September 18, 2010

Richard Voreis, CEO, Consulting Collaborative, Dallas, led the solar seminar “Solar & Energy Efficiency: Applications from Design to Installation” on Sept. 16, during GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo, Sept. 14-16, at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Panelists included Steve Coonen, BIPV consultant, Grass Valley, Calif.; Brett Trainor, manager, Trainor Solar Systems, Trainor Glass Co., Alsip, Ill.; Robert Boehm, director, Center for Energy Research, University of Nevada Las Vegas; Teodosio del Caño, chief technical officer, Onyx Solar Energy, Spain; and Ray Lucchesi, founding principal, Lucchesi Galati Architects, Las Vegas.

“Photovoltaic modules started appearing on buildings in the late 1970s,” Voreis said in his presentation "Building Integrated Photovoltaics in Fenestration Applications." The first PV products specifically designed to be integrated into the building envelope appeared in the late 1990s, and BIPVs were born, he said. "The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that BIPV fenestration products have the potential to generate up to half the electricity needed in the country."

There are two major types of photovoltaic module construction: standard, pre-framed modules and custom laminates. Standard pre-framed PV modules are constructed in high-volume production lines, often using robotics. Typically, they are used in ground-mount or rooftop arrays with a low-cost mounting system. Manufacturers produce them in standard sizes that optimize efficiency; they are not typically used in building envelopes. Custom PV laminates are usually built in specified sizes to fit the requirements of the framing system — window, curtain wall, skylight, etc.—and the building envelope opening. Some call this application BIPV. They can be part of an insulating, or insulating-laminated glass unit. These units are engineered to order and can be be glazed like typical commercial glass (see Closer look on Page XX).

Discussing the growth of the overall PV industry, Voreis said, “In 2008, world solar PV installations increased 110 percent over 2007. In 2009, even with a depressed global economy, installations reached another record high representing growth of 20 percent over the previous year. The PV industry generated $43 billion in global revenues in 2009. Varying estimates forecast PV worldwide installations to double by year-end 2012.”

Most of the U.S. is expected to reach grid parity – the point at which PV electricity is equal to or cheaper than grid power -- by 2015, Voreis said. “Utility rates have increased every year for the past 20 years,” he said. “With the increasing pressure on carbon reduction, their rates will increase more aggressively. Silicon from one ton of sand used in PV solar power modules produces as much electricity as 500,000 tons of burning coal.”

In the building envelope, PV is a natural for fenestration applications, Voreis said. "Especially, thin-film modules replacing conventional glass with energy producing glass. The functionality of glass as a cost-effective building material is further enhanced by incorporating PV," he said. PV modules can easily be integrated into fenestration products including: curtain walls, window walls,sloped glazing, sunscreens and skylights, he said.

In closing, Voreis pointed to  First Solar, Tempe, Ariz., as an example of the financial opportunity the PV market presents. A manufacturer of thin-film solar modules, First Solar was named number 7 in Fortune Magazine’s "World’s Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies," Voreis said. The company saw a sales increase of $135 million in 2006 to $2.1 billion and pre-tax income 33 percent in 2009.

Trainor talked about Trainor Solar Systems and said, “Use of solar glass creates renewable energy; contributes to LEED credits by providing improved energy efficiency; reduces dependency on fossil fuels; and promotes sustainability.” There also are federal and state tax incentives for using solar glass, he said. “DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he said.

Trainor also discussed the types of PV systems – grid-tied and battery backup systems – the types of PV products available in the market – crystalline and thin-film – and designing with BIPV.

Coonen reminded the glass and glazing industry about the PV industry’s fiscal potential. “Roofers have taken this industry on in a big way,” he said. “The glass and glazing industry needs to step into this. More than 90 percent of solar panels are glass. Guardian [Industries, Auburn Hills, Mich.] has just stepped into this. Glaziers need to understand that just because it generates electricity doesn’t mean it’s not a glass product. You need to engage in this. This is a business opportunity.” Cost justifications include: 30 percent tax credit on full system; 5-year accelerated depreciation = ~ 35 percent; electricity value, typical, $.10 per kilowatt hour; pollution credits of $.03/kwh; resulting in $80 per square feet becoming about $30 per square feet, he said.

Del Caño presented “Paving the Way for BIPVs.” Buildings produce 40 percent of the greenhouse gases, he said. Architects and manufacturers need to consider PVs as another building material,” he said. “To achieve this, we need to implement passive and active solutions,” he said. “BIPVs are the active solution. PV ventilated facades can save energy by up to 40 percent, plus produce energy. Curtain-wall insulated PV glass, walkable roofs, photovoltaics + LED lights, pixeled facades with PVs, are all active solutions. BIPVs are economically feasible and the market will explode in the next 10 years.”

Addition of BIPV modules add to cost, but it is still less costly than other building materials such as granite, because it has the double function of generating electrical power, Voreis said. Any conventional architectural glass can be replaced by BIPVs. “Fenestration applications can reduce the building’s energy consumption down to net zero, [meaning the building can produce at least as much energy as it uses],” he said. “The DOE has set a goal of 100 percent of new commercial buildings by 2025 will be net-zero energy buildings. DOE has intermediate goals along the way. BIPV will play a major role in reaching this goal.”

Lucchesi discussed design principles and generations of PVs, while Boehm discussed the CER's work in PVs.

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  • Saf-Glas introduces electricity generating glass that can also be safety glass

    GlassBuild America exhibitor Saf-Glas LLC, Riviera Beach, Fla., in conjunction with one its associates, has developed a patent-pending transparent integrated glass module that when incorporated into a system can produce electricity from natural or artificial light, according to a release.

    This invention is designed to be installation-friendly and can be incorporated into most manufacturers' window and door systems. The glass module can provide power independent of the main electrical grid. It converts collected light into direct current, utilizing Saf-Glas' patent-pending proprietary interlayer and production method. The electricity generated can be inverted from DC to alternating current and then returned to the main electrical grid and/or directed to a battery collection source or to electrical devices. This product does not incorporate monocrystalline, polycrystalline or amorphous materials in its construction, according to the release.

    The proprietary technology also can fabricate the power-producing transparent glass module to be bullet, bomb blast, fire, physical attack, tornado, hurricane, typhoon and earthquake resistant.

    Saf-Glas will exhibit its product line in conjunction with at the upcoming Solar Power International show, Oct. 12-14, in Los Angeles, booth 4352.