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Building up BIPV in the BRICs

Lewis MacNulty

Lewis MacNulty is an Electrical Engineer, Green Entrepreneur and author of articles on green technology, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is a leading engineer at WDSGreenEnergy, a green technology supplier in Wales. Find WDS Green Energy on Facebook and follow WDS Green Energy’s twitter feed @WDSGreenEnergy

21. January 2013 - 10:39
China shines the way for building-integrated PV, but it’s time for Brazil and India to follow, says Lewis MacNulty
Integrated PV

The next three to five years will see one of the world’s largest expansions in building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), with expected capacity to grow from 1200MW, in 2010 to 11400MW by 2015. We live in an exciting time on the forefront of this technology.

‘Building Integrated’ means that these cells are actually a part of the building’s construction, forming such parts of the cladding of the roof or walls, while still providing their energy gathering benefits.

Using standard BIPV modules to create a façade over a skyscraper could provide as much as 400kWp of electricity. Fully developed BIPV could have the potential to meet the needs of a building largely, or entirely, with the use of solar power. One such building is the OpTIC Centre, St Asaph, North Wales. It currently provides 85kWp of electricity and fully meets the energy requirements of the whole building - quite an achievement.

There are also developments happening with dual-side BIPV, in which both sides of the module are able to absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity. Dual-side BIPV modules can also absorb ambient light from secondary sources, such as reflective surfaces within the building, which maximises their efficiency. This allows the modules to deliver 1.3 times the power of conventional single-sided BIPV installations.

It’s difficult to forecast the success or failure of BIPV against other technologies, as it’s come about at a very difficult time. Not only is much of the Western World in the midst of an economic downturn, but the global construction industry is experiencing its worst days in a hundred years. The two are inextricably linked, so can BIPV thrive or even survive in this turmoil? Well, when you look at it in comparison with retro-fitted standard PV panels, you can certainly see some in-roads for it. But what about BIPV in the BRICs? Is it important that these countries start to implement the technology too?

The BRIC countries, namely Brazil, India and China, are the big upcoming hitters in the global economy. Much of the success of new technology lies in winning over and tapping these international markets. The future of BIPV could be determined by whether the BRIC countries can adopt it into a scheme in both the short and long term. 

China is the only BRIC country which currently operates a government-backed subsidy of the technology. The country’s infrastructure industry is behind BIPV systems, so we’re likely to see an increased amount of architecture being designed and constructed with solar panels as part of structures. But Brazil and India haven’t yet bought into the scheme, as their Asian rival has, and are quickly falling behind.

A BIPV scheme can take up to 15 years to fully implement across a country, so it’s important for these countries to begin development in order to tap this technology before more competition rises. Unless we see them beginning to make headway in the next 24 months, it will be a hard fought battle to integrate this renewable incentive to these countries at an affordable rate.

BIPV into the future
The stated goal across Europe is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and to thereby reduce CO2 emissions. To this end, the EU is committed to replacing twenty per cent of the existing sources of energy with renewables by 2020. Given the rapid pace of development in the field of PV technology, this is not an unreachable target. It is anticipated that by 2014, there will be as much as 500MW of PV installations per year in the UK alone.

The recent report, September 2012, stated that global solar cell revenue is expected to reach USD 78.1bn in 2017, after increasing at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.3 per cent. But the markets for solar cells in Asia are expected to have a CAGR of 27.6 per cent, much higher than the EU (16.1 per cent). This shows how the uptakes of BIPV technology could rapidly increase in Asia in the coming years.

Like every forecast there is some uncertainty in the prediction. However, recent changes to the Chinese solar subsidies to 9¥ per Watt (USD 1.4) have initiated a major expansion in solar projects. It is clear that during the global crisis green investors are looking for these government subsidies in order to reduce the risks of investing. Further green initiatives in the BRIC country could be required in order to reach its Co2 emission targets.