The future of solar energy is bright to say the least. With the decrease in the in the fossil fuel reserves and their unstable markets, the demand for solar energy has never been greater. For any technology to grow it needs to seamlessly blend with its environment. Thus, photovoltaic (PV) panels need to be integrated with the surrounding areas they are being installed.
To make buildings carbon free, we need to generate much more renewable electricity than that is done at present. This is where the concept of BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) comes into the picture. BIPVs are solar cells incorporated into building materials to replace conventional parts like rooftops, facades, and windows, thus making the PV energy generation cost only marginal within the total build and sometimes cheaper on per square foot basis.
PV panels can be made semi-transparent by combining transparent areas of glass and a pattern of opaque solar cells. Fully transparent panels are likely to be available in the near future as there is a lot of work underway to capture light consistently across the entire visible and non-visible spectrum to create truly transparent, colorless PV glass. These will provide an excellent way to provide sound protection, thermal control, weather proofing, light, and shade, all in addition to generating energy.
In urban spaces, the area on the façade of buildings are much larger than the area on their respective roofs. By harnessing the area available to us in the form of windows, we can generate large amounts of energy. If all the windows on the World Trade Center had generated electricity it could have powered over 350 houses. Therefore, with the improvement in mounting systems and availability of transparent PV panels, windows could then generate a significant amount of electricity.
BIPV has come a long way, and though it still has a lot of technological advancements ahead of itself, in 15-20 years, those who want to move off the grid may be able to move into homes that feature BIPV. With this technological advancement, the number of people willing and able to go solar may be more than anyone has anticipated. So all things considered, the future of solar energy has never been brighter and we are excited to find out where it takes us!