Solar Experts Tell Industry Members to Jump Aboard the BIPV Train
September 15, 2011

By Sahely Mukerji

About 150 people, including 60 students from Georgia Institute of Technology of Atlanta and Southern Polytechnic State University of Marietta, Ga., attended the third annual solar seminar, "Building Integrated Photovoltaics: It's Not the Future, It's the Now," on September 14, the last day of GlassBuild America in Atlanta.

Eddie Bugg, director of Sustainable Solutions at Kawneer Co., speaks at the solar seminar on September 14 at GlassBuild America. Panelists seated from left: Steve Coonen, PV industry consultant; Matt Koch, Texas Center for Applied Technology; Brenden Dillon, Pythagoras Solar; Vikram Sami, Parkins+Will Architects; Rick Hamlin, Trainor Glass; and moderator Richard Voreis, Consulting Collaborative.

"PV first appeared in the 1970s, and became integrated in the building envelope in 1990s," began Richard Voreis, chief executive officer of Consulting Collaborative in Texas, who moderated the panel session. "Now the glass and glazing industry is about to see building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) gain traction. The Department of Energy (DOE) said BIPV can generate half the electricity used in this country."

The global PV market more than doubled in 2010, with Europe accounting for more than 80 percent, Voreis said. "The U.S. will become the third largest supplier of PV after Germany and Italy," he said. "Currently, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world PV market, projected to increase to 12 percent by 2015. We are projected to be the fastest growing major market through at least 2015; and the fastest growing state in PV capacity is New Jersey."

Before then, the glass industry needs to get a slice of the BIPV pie, Voreis said.

And that should not be complicated, according to panelist Rick Hamlin, executive vice president and national estimating director of Trainor Glass in Farmers Branch, Texas. "Think of PV as glass with wires," Hamlin said. "BIPV is the best fit for contract glaziers. It's just a new market using same trades. It's additional revenue on existing projects, and builds value with customer base. It fits with our core competencies, and if you don't get on board now, you'll be working from behind."

Rick Hamlin of Trainor Glass commented during the GlassBuild solar seminar, "BIPV is the best fit for contract glaziers. It's just a new market using same trades."

Eddie Bugg, director of Sustainable Solutions at Kawneer Co. in Norcross, Ga., advised his listeners to get on board the BIPV train by targeting early adopters. "Find architects and/or developers who recognize and are leveraging federal and local grants, and using the technology in their building integration." Understand the customer's level of commitment and funding for BIPV early, Bugg added.

Most importantly, according to Bugg, "Recognize BIPV is an exercise in optimizing coordination of trade (architectural, electrical and glazing system design). We need collaboration of the module suppliers, frame manufacturers, glaziers, electrical contractors and installers. That collaboration will drive cost down."

Brendan Dillon, director of product marketing at Pythagoras Solar in San Mateo, Calif., agreed. "We need curtainwall manufacturers and architects, engineers, contractors to work in close collaboration. We need visionary clients out there to share the risk with us. Predicting the cost is a challenge, so, you need a partner that can help you create the economics of it."

Dillon also noted installers should leverage existing trades and construction techniques, and take advantage of current tax incentives. "You can take a 30 percent tax credit for a curtainwall that you might be building. BIPV systems cost more in the front end, but should pay back in less than five years," he said.

As long as BIPV are considered as an add-on, it won't be used as much as it could be, said Vikram Sami, sustainable design analyst at Parkins+Will Architects. "Thinking holistically is important."

Steve Coonen, a PV industry consultant, reminded his audience during the GlassBuild solar seminar: "It's glass first and foremost, so, you all should be installing it."

Matt Koch, senior research engineer for the Texas Center for Applied Technology, agreed. "BIPV should not be an afterthought," he said. "Installation tends to be less costly if done as part of initial construction rather than as retrofit, but it's still an economic puzzle game."

"The key word in BIPV is 'integrated,'" summarized Steve Coonen, a PV industry consultant in Grass Valley, Calif. That said, "Ninety percent of the grid connected BIPV schematic is putting the glass in. The rest is the invertor. It really is not rocket science. So, don't be afraid. A PV cell is simply two sheets of glass with EVA in the middle.

"The electricians have beat our pants off when it comes to installing PV," Coonen added. "It's glass first and foremost, so, you all should be installing it. The 30-percent tax write-off is good until 2016, so make use of it."

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