Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV): An overview

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building integrated photovoltaics (bipv)

When you think of solar, rooftops or open fields with panels generating renewable electricity probably comes to mind. However, solar products have evolved – and now, many options are available under the umbrella of "building-integrated photovoltaics," or BIPV. BIPV products merge solar tech with the structural elements of buildings, leading to many creative and innovative ways to generate solar electricity.

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Key takeaways

  • BIPV generates solar electricity while serving as a structural part of your home.

  • BIPV can come in the form of roofing (most discussed), transparent glaze, or other building elements.

  • Some people think BIPV is more aesthetically pleasing than traditional solar panels, but it tends to cost more and be less efficient.

  • Solar shoppers should use the EnergySage Marketplace to receive and compare quotes for solar systems.

While traditional solar panels usually don't provide any actual structural function to the buildings they're installed on, BIPV does. At its core, BIPV is a category of dual-purpose solar products. Building-integrated photovoltaics generate solar electricity and work as a structural part of a building.

Today, most BIPV products are designed for large commercial buildings, like an apartment complex or community center. However, there will always be exceptions, and the widely-known Tesla Solar Roof is a prime example of BIPV's rising popularity within residential home construction. Some roofing companies, like CertainTeed, are also leaders in BIPV products.

Any structural building material that can generate solar electricity technically counts as BIPV. Here are the main examples of BIPV tech today:


Probably the most talked-about type of BIPV technology is solar roofing. Also known as solar shingles or solar tiles, this is an alternative to traditional rooftop solar panels – instead of placing panels on top of your existing roof, you can replace your roof shingles or tiles with a dual-purpose photovoltaic roofing material that both provides shelter and generates electricity.

A solar roof has many potential advantages, but the technology is less mature than conventional solar panels. Mainly, the cells of solar roof products aren't as efficient as traditional monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panels, and glaringly, the cost of a solar roof is typically much higher than a rooftop solar panel installation.

Transparent glaze

The sun hits more building surfaces than a roof, so why not take advantage of that space? While solar irradiance depends on geography, one or more sides of a building often have decent sun exposure. Solar windows (or solar glass) are a category of BIPV products that rely on solar glaze, ultra-thin solar cells that capture sunlight while maintaining transparency, like an ordinary window.

General building elements

We don't have a suitable category for other ways of integrating solar into structures, so we'll go with "general building elements." This can include solar awnings, building facades, or anything structural about a building's side that can be solar-ified. More often than rooftop solar installations, these solar-integrated building elements experiment using lightweight thin-film solar panels or organic solar cells.

BIPV certainly has potential. Just look at the Tesla Solar Roof, which has piqued the interest of a wide swath of the population due to its aesthetic and functional appeal. However, as with any solar technology, it's important to know what you're getting (or not getting):

Advantages of BIPV

The apparent benefit of BIPV is that it's another way to generate free energy from the sun. Enough solar energy continually hits Earth to power our entire planet 10,000 times over, so every extra inch of that surface to generate electricity is a plus.

Aside from solar production, the aesthetics of BIPV are a big draw. While some people dislike the noticeable look of solar panels on roofs, BIPV offers a subtler, sleeker way to go solar. For commercial and industrial buildings, BIPV is a way to showcase a company's or organization's innovation and environmental awareness.

Disadvantages of BIPV

BIPV is part of the building itself, so unlike traditional solar panels, it's best to plan ahead and construct your building with BIPV solutions for design and cost reasons. From a design perspective, knowing where you need sunlight to hit before building an entire structure is near essential for integrating solar products. And from a cost perspective, it can reduce the incremental costs for builders to know upfront that you want to integrate solar production into a building.

Speaking of costs, the other main disadvantage of BIPV is the price tag. Because building-integrated solar is less mature of a product than solar panels, costs remain high. Plus, you'll likely pay more for lower solar electricity production because BIPV cell efficiencies are usually not as high as solar panels.

Whether you want a solar shingle roof or regular old solar panels, the best way to start shopping is to sign up on EnergySage to compare solar quotes from local companies for free. All it takes is an email address, and we'll help connect you with pre-screened, vetted companies in your area.

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