There is general consensus today that we need to harvest solar potential to produce most, if not all the energy we need. Solar technology has evolved and is now available at a reasonable cost and market growth has ensured a variety of solar panel variants, manufacturers and dealers, giving people plenty to choose from.
As architects, it’s time we think of making renewable energy an integral part of our designs and not let it be just an appendage to the built-form. This is termed BIPV — Building Integrated Photovoltaics. Staying informed about the latest advancements in renewable energy technology will help with its integration in the planning stage.
The advantage of BIPV over conventional systems is that the initial cost can be offset by reducing construction costs of the particular area that the BIPV modules replace.
Also, as our buildings get taller, the ratio of available roof area for a conventional solar panel installation versus the number of occupants is slowly reducing, making it difficult to produce the amount of energy required per occupant locally.
One way to increase solar energy production is by means of replacing architectural elements with solar panels. BIPV can be installed on building façades in addition to the roof. Unlike the traditional solar modules, BIPV modules can generate power by both direct and diffused radiation. As solar panels are glass-based, components that contain glazings such as windows, skylights, glass façades, roofing sheets, tiles and doors can easily be planned to be energy-producing solar panels. In addition to producing electricity, these can enhance energy savings due to superior thermal insulation properties and solar radiation control.
The various technologies currently available include crystalline silicon solar panels, amorphous-crystalline silicon thin film solar PV modules which could be coloured or transparent, CIGS-based (Copper Indium Gallium Selenide) thin film cells, double glass solar panels with square cells inside and solar roof tiles with integrated solar modules.
Currently, adoption of BIPV in India has been extremely slow when compared to other countries. If architects and planners are able to think holistically and support such initiatives, India can go a long way in getting to self-sufficiency in terms of its energy needs.
The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a city-based sustainable architecture firm