Volume 44, Issue 8 - August 2009

From the Fabricator


The Final Frontier
BIPV Follows the Path of Low-E
By Max Perilstein

Are you ready for the next frontier of our industry? Without sounding too much like Star Trek, we are going to go where no man has gone before!

I remember just starting out in the business and learning about all of the different styles of low-E. They all had their own character, which actually was a bad thing because that meant they all gave off some sort of color and that color would show at the most inopportune times. But as time went forward the manufacturers perfected the production of low-E and we stand today with tremendous options and probably a few more great ones in the pipeline.

So why does this matter? Because the next origination of the industry will be solar and, more specifically, building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). I have a pretty good feeling this is going to follow the same path as low-E. (And for the sake of full disclosure, yes, the company I work for is developing a BIPV productóbut so are many others.)

PV material has not hit the mainstream yet in our industry but itís only a matter of time. The glazing industry has been under siege by the government and Department of Energy for years for all of the wrong and misinformed reasons. Because of that, thereís pressure to do even more with the portions of the building that is the responsibility of the glazier. With solar becoming a staple of the push for renewable energy, the glass industryís contribution will have to be through BIPV. So if you are not familiar with what BIPV is, itís time to hit the books (or the search engine, whichever you prefer).

"PV material has not hit the mainstream yet in our industry but itís only a matter of time."

The Next Generation of Glass
In the early days of low-E, there was always a question of how it performed. The common theme was ďdid it do what we paid for?Ē But as time rolled on, the statistics backed the performance (and without a third-party test attaching to the product) and low-E became a staple of commercial building. I predict the same process with BIPV. People in the beginning will wonder how this material could deliver electricity to the building or grid. How it will pay for itself. How it will be accepted from an aesthetic standpoint. Thereís no doubt the questions will be many, but I, for one, am confident that the technology that is being developed right now will meet the needs and pass those tests.

I envision a world where low-E and PV will work together. Toss in electrochromatic and thermoreflective materials and you have some awesome materials. Suddenly the glass wonít be the weak link. Well, in some peopleís minds it will be, and unfortunately that wonít ever change. Still, the move to this next generation is our chance to get ahead of the game and out of the shadows. And just like insulating glass and then low-E in the past, this will do it for us next.

The obstacles will be many. Unfortunately the learning curve will be a lot steeper than other products in the past. Also, with electrical wires involved, a possible trade ďcivil warĒ could break out over who does what. And then there is the maintenance going forward. Once traditional glass is installed, itís pretty much forgotten. But with BIPV, and the ability to track this material on a desktop, if itís not bringing in the specified and agreed-upon electricity, then there will be bigger issues than what we deal with now.

Embarking on the BIPV Enterprise
So the time really has come to look forward. Too many times as an industry we donít look ahead far enough. We wait for things to come to us and simmer and then maybe we get involved. But this one seems to be the game-changer product-wise. The people who understand and respect all of the new technology will be the ones getting ahead in the game. I am heartened by the amount of glaziers who already are asking about this material and wanting more. Hopefully thatís a good sign and when things break free everyone will be ready and up for the next steps.

At the end of the day I do believe that this material will allow us to follow a famous mantra from the Star Trek series: Live long and prosper!

Max Perilstein serves as the vice president of marketing for Arch Aluminum and Glass. Mr. Perilsteinís opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this magazine. His column appears bi-monthly.

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