Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

More Solar Innovation: Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)

The following article writen by Peter Kelly-Detwiler of Forbes is just one of many recent Net Zero articles that confirm that Net Zero technology is accelerating with extraordinary advances in solar energy innovations.  In particular, this article focuses on the very bright future of  Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). 

by Peter Kelly-Detwiler (Forbes)

January 10, 2013

Renowned innovator and futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that within 20 years we will have our energy problem licked. It’s solved. We just don’t know iBIPV 09t yet. As he told Lauren Fenny of PBS: “One of my primary theses is that information technologies grow exponentially in capability and power and bandwidth and so on. If you buy an iPhone today, it’s twice as good as two years ago for half that cost. That is happening with solar energy — it is doubling every two years…Every two years we have twice as much solar energy in the world.

Today, solar is still more expensive than fossil fuels, and in most situations it still needs subsidies or special circumstances, but the costs are coming down rapidly — we are only a few years away from parity. And then it’s going to keep coming down, and people will be gravitating towards solar, even if they don’t care at all about the environment, because of the economics.

BIPV 07So right now it’s at half a percent of the world’s energy. People tend to dismiss technologies when they are half a percent of the solution. But doubling every two years means it’s only eight more doublings before it meets a hundred percent of the world’s energy needs. So that’s 16 years. We will increase our use of electricity during that period, so add another couple of doublings: In 20 years we’ll be meeting all of our energy needs with solar, based on this trend which has already been under way for 20 years.”RAB lfleda

The same process is happening with LED lighting. Once the limited province of Cree and a few others, the technology is now rapidly moving into the marketplace in the hands of Siemens, Philips, and GE, and it has gone mainstream. In fact, global LED lighting sales grew from $2.7 bn in 2008 to $9.4 bn in 2011.

solar panel photo 17That’s what happens with good technologies. They get mainstreamed for reasons other than the environmental benefits alone. Kurzweil is onto something. Growth in solar has been spectacular. But so far it’s been on rooftops and in large filed-mounted arrays. The next area where solar may make huge gains is integration into the skin of buildings, what is know as Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV.

A recent report from Pike research see BIPV growing from just over 400 MW in 2012 to 2,250 by 2017, with annual value increasing from just overThin film clipart 3 $600 mn to $2.4 bn. “In the future, BIPV will no longer be confined to spandrel or overhead applications. Rather, the entire building envelope will be able to put it to use, allowing the structure to produce its own power and feed additional power into the grid system.” If it becomes cost-effective, it will happen, certainly in existing buildings, where the PV systems can be built into curtain wall glass installed during construction.

But what about the enormous fleet of existing buildings? How to attack that? Stanford scientists may have just found the answer. In tackling the vexing problem that most solar panels are rigid and thereby limited in their applications, Stanford researchers came up with a technology to create decal-type panels that can be stuck to virtually any surface. Including window panes (you know all those stickers for expensive collage on the rear windshields of cars? It would be nice if they finally paid us back…).

Southwall FlexibleITOThe technology has other advantages. According to the Stanford Engineering “Unlike standard thin-film solar cells, peel-and-stick thin-film solar cells do not require any direct fabrication on the final carrier substrate. This is a far more dramatic development than it may initially seem. All the challenges associated with putting solar cells on unconventional materials are avoided with the new process, vastly expanding the potential applications of solar technology.” The peel-and-stick process not only provides thin-film solar cells flexibility and unprecedented ability to attach to surfaces, but it also reduces weight.

The Stanford peel and stick technology is not a slam dunk. But if it fails tothinfilm 4 commercialize, there will be another innovation success story waiting around the corner. And another. The prize is simply too big to ignore, and somebody will eventually take it. In making his bold prediction, Kurzweil doesn’t focus on the detail; he looks at the trends and the forces of progress. He may have something there.

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