Volume 46, Issue 9 - October 2011


Fabricators and contract glaziers were urged to take on photovoltaic (PV) installations during a recent seminar on building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Approximately 150 people, including 60 students from Georgia Institute of Technology of Atlanta and Southern Polytechnic State University of Marietta, Ga., attended the third annual solar seminar, “Building Integrated Photovoltaics: It’s Not the Future, It’s the Now,” on September 14, the last day of GlassBuild.

“The glass and glazing industry is about to see BIPV gain traction. The Department of Energy (DOE) said BIPV can generate half the electricity used in this country,” began moderator Richard Voreis, chief executive officer of Consulting Collaborative in Texas.

The global PV market more than doubled in 2010, with Europe accounting for more than 80 percent, according to Voreis. “The U.S. will become the third largest supplier of PV after Germany and Italy,” he said. “Currently, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world PV market, projected to increase to 12 percent by 2015 … The fastest growing state in PV capacity is New Jersey.”

Most of the states are expected to reach grid parity—the point at which PV electricity is equal to or cheaper than grid power—by 2015, Voreis said. The DOE’s goal is to make all new commercial buildings net-zero by 2025.

The growth of the U.S. PV market is reflected in the growth of First Solar of Tempe, Ariz., Voreis said. “It was number 7 in the world’s top 100 fastest growing companies list,” he said. The glass industry needs to get a slice of the BIPV pie, as well, Voreis added.

And that should not be complicated, according to panelist Rick Hamlin, executive vice president and national estimating director of Trainor Glass in Farmers Branch, Texas. “Think of PV as glass with wires,” Hamlin said. “BIPV is the best fit for contract glaziers. It’s just a new market using the same trades. It’s additional revenue on existing projects, and builds value with customer base.”

BIPV is simply solar cells in glass laminates and integrated in building structures, added Eddie Bugg, director of Sustainable Solutions at Kawneer Co. in Norcross, Ga. To get on board the BIPV train, he advised listeners to target early adopters. “Find architects and/or developers who recognize and are leveraging federal and local grants, and using the technology in their building integration.” Be very selective on who you are working with, he added. “Start to learn by doing. Don’t wait for someone else to learn and teach you, because then you’re two to three iterations behind.”

Understand the customer’s level of commitment and funding for BIPV early, Bugg added. “Focus on those who are serious about BIPV and understand what it is and is not. Work with a full-service architectural aluminum systems supplier that can tailor a solution and help you with the order. BIPV is expensive, budgets are not infinite, so be careful with the ‘traditional’ mark-ups. Ensure specs are tight and clearly understood by all.”

Most importantly, “recognize BIPV is an exercise in optimizing coordination of trade (architectural, electrical and glazing system design). We need collaboration of the module suppliers, frame manufacturers, glaziers, electrical contractors and installers. That collaboration will drive cost down,” Bugg said.

Brendan Dillon, director of product marketing at Pythagoras Solar in San Mateo, Calif., agreed. “We need curtainwall manufacturers and architects, engineers, contractors to work in close collaboration. We need visionary clients out there to share the risk with us. Predicting the cost is a challenge, so you need a partner that can help you create the economics of it.”

In order to be used more widely, BIPV has to replace an existing building material on the building, Dillon said. “To do that, we have to improve the energy efficiency of the building, produce electricity in a meaningful way and appeal to the architects and engineers so they feel good standing behind it.” Leverage existing trades and construction techniques, and take advantage of current tax incentives, he said. “You can take a 30-percent tax credit for a curtainwall that you might be building. BIPV systems cost more in the front end, but should pay back in less than five years.”

But as long as BIPV is considered an add-on, it won’t be used as much as it could be, said Vikram Sami, sustainable design analyst at Perkins+Will Architects. “Thinking holistically is important.”

Matt Koch, senior research engineer for the Texas Center for Applied Technology, agreed. “BIPV should not be an afterthought,” he said. “Installation tends to be less costly if done as part of initial construction rather than as retrofit, but it’s still an economic puzzle game.”

“The key word in BIPV is ‘integrated,’” summarized Steve Coonen, a PV industry consultant in Grass Valley, Calif. That said, “Ninety percent of the grid connected BIPV schematic is putting the glass in. The rest is the invertor. It really is not rocket science. So, don’t be afraid. A PV cell is simply two sheets of glass with EVA in the middle.

“The electricians have beat our pants off when it comes to installing PV,” Coonen added. “It’s glass first and foremost, so, you all should be installing it. The 30-percent tax write-off is good until 2016, so make use of it.”

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