Nick Shore, NSG Group
We’ve talked about how glass in windows has a vital role to play in helping architects create low-carbon buildings – but there’s another way that savvy architects are using glass products to transform our cities.
Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems are solar panels incorporated into the skin of a building. Whereas traditional solar panels are often bolted on to the roof, BIPV are specifically designed as part of the structure of the building. They can form part of external wall cladding or be incorporated into windows where complete transparency isn’t required.
By using BIPV as a structural component, architects are able to make use of the billions of square metres of building roofs and façades in our cities without drastically altering their appearance. BIPV systems have the potential to turn these otherwise redundant façades into discreet mini power stations. And the more BIPV installed, the less demand there will be for more environmentally harmful forms of energy.
BIPV systems are most effective when they are incorporated into a building’s design from the start. Because these systems are so flexible, architects don’t need to compromise on other elements of their design vision to specify them. And because buildings with BIPV systems offer far more to occupants than just a space to work, they are more attractive to potential tenants.
For these reasons, BIPV could transform the way we design buildings. In fact, the latest industry predictions by Nano Markets anticipate that our cities will become awash with BIPV systems over the next few years. The technology is becoming more efficient, production costs are falling and, crucially, legislative changes are inspiring architects to look for new solutions to create greener buildings.
The benefits of solar power are becoming more tangible too. Pound for pound, conventional forms of energy generation such as coal and gas are still cheaper than solar. But falling manufacturing costs and improved component technology such as NSG TEC™, a range of coated solar glass products designed for thin film photovoltaic applications, are pushing solar systems towards grid-parity; where electricity from solar panels becomes as cheap as that from conventional power plants. Buildings with their own energy source also benefit from cutting out the energy company middleman. This benefit is often made all the sweeter thanks to Government ‘feed-in tariff’ incentives across a range of countries.
All this can amount to significant net cost savings compared to energy taken from the grid in the usual manner. This is particularly attractive for tenants and building occupiers as it means lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint, a key factor in driving the uptake of BIPV technology.
So BIPV marks a step change in the shift towards zero-carbon buildings. Buildings with BIPV aren’t just using energy; they’re also generating it in a sustainable way. In fact, BIPV systems will have a key role to play as architects work towards creating carbon positive buildings – offsetting more carbon than they consume in construction and use over the long term.
The fundamental message here is that glass is not just passive. As well as allowing architects to make the most of the sun’s energy to heat buildings, glass can also actively generate energy as a fundamental component of solar panels.
The time for BIPV is now, and with it comes new ways for architects to create buildings with a lasting legacy. Goodbye high energy bills, hello energy producing building façades.
Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.