The term BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) is a loaded term. What is it really?
Photovoltaic roofing tiles? OK, that makes sense. Although that’s a tough product to sell. Just ask now bankrupt Open Energy. Or perennial fund raiser Redwood Renewables. Merging electronics with roof tiles, roofers with electricians, is a difficult mix. Sharp, SunPower, Suntech and others have made forays into this type of product.
How about flexible solar that sticks on roofs? Like United Solar Ovonic (a-Si) or Ascent Solar(CIGS)? These are innovative, lightweight, flexible technologies – butwhat part of "Building Integrated" don’t you understand? These are"Building Applied" and don’t form a structural part of the buildingenvelope. No doubt there are applications for these products,especially when light weight is a crucial consideration. But they arenot truly building integrated.
France has a generous BIPV tariff but BIPV is a pretty vague term inFrench as well. According to a colleague: "As you’re driving throughthe French countryside you’ll occasionally see its ambiguity put togood use on bare-boned lean-tos with ‘integrated’ PV panels. The BIPVprovision basically says that for it to qualify for the €0.65/tariffthe panels need to form an aesthetic part of the building architecture.Funny."
The real revolution for BIPV is to bring PV into the builtenvironment and transform PV from Greentech into Maintech – makingsolar power part of the building envelope. This is the type of BIPVdesigned and integrated by companies like altPower.
I spoke with Anthony Periera, the CEO of altPower, a solar installer and integrator who designs and deploys BIPV. Real BIPV.
His most recent BIPV project, the Visionaire in New York City, is pictured below.
altPower’s BIPV is assembled with "cassette-built pre-glazedconstruction" also called "unitized curtain wall." That’s essentiallymodular window units, pre-assembled off-site – as opposed to "stickconstruction" where the glass is infilled on-site.
altPower designs the unitized curtain wall, contracts its’construction to others, after which it is installed by ornamental ironworkers (as opposed to glaziers or electricians).
"The BIPVmarket is pretty slow but will come back when construction comes back,"said Periera. altPower mostly does rooftops and claims to have 10megawatts to 20 megawatts in the pipeline. It has three BIPV projectstotaling 150 kilowatts in the pipeline.
The PV curtain walls cost ~$180 per square foot installed of which the module is ~$120 per square foot.
altPower is one of the early pioneers in the untapped and huge-potential BIPV market. Maintech, not Greentech.