Is BIPV (building integrated photovoltaic) dead?

By Waterdog14 on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 - 6:42pm

BIPV looked very promising a few years ago.  Flexible thin film photovoltaic laminates were glued onto metal standing seam roofs and reportedly would withstand hail and last for 25 years.  I believe Unisolar was one of the largest US producers.  Then Unisolar went under during the economic downturn.  Xunlight may be an active Chinese producer, but there's very little information available about them.  Has this industry "tanked"? 

If anyone here has experience with, or opinions about, thin-film solar BIPV, please speak up!  It would be ideal for my house here in Colorado, which needs a new standing seam roof.  (The southern exposure is tremendous.)   Any suggestions?



silvervarg's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 28 2010
Posts: 57
Re: Is BIPV dead?

One main problem with thin film has been the lower output per area. If you have unlimited space this is not much of a concern, but most of the time your space is limited and valuable.

Second issue is the technology advances quickly makes certain solar panels outdated. While the panel (or film) will last 25 years it is likely that you want to replace it much sooner. Personally I believe you should make economic calculations on replacing more or less everything after 10 years. That is the panels, cables, charge controllers and if you have them batteries and inverters.

If you use batteries and cycle them often (like daily) I would expect to need to replace them every 5 years.

Do you find a much better deal from economic point of view by going thin film? That would be the only reason they would be of interest to me for mounting to a roof.

Stabu's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 7 2011
Posts: 110
Re: Is BIPV Dead?

I know exactly one person who has had BIPV installed on his roof and that was back in 2007. The company that did it went belly-up in 2011. I was interested in this technology back then and when I talked to that home owner and a representative of the company, I got the impression that the main reason why BIPV installations stopped was the federal tax credit that entered into force with changes to the previous scheme in 2008, which basically made it impossible to get the credits with BIPV. All prior installers of BIPV that I found in my area have similarly either stopped installing them or alternatively ceased to exist (e.g. no returned calls, unupdated websites etc.)

In my opinion BIPV still carries two advantages over traditional solar:

1) They look better

2) They are essentially invisible (you have to know exactly what to look at in order to find them)

The second advantage would be important in the rare (unlikely) case where you live in a suburban/semi-rural area in an off-the-grid situation and electricity suddenly stops working for a longer period, making you a possible target.

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