The energy consumption of buildings accounts for more than a third of the total energy consumption of India. Add to this the fact that more than 70% of the buildings to be erected in India in 2030 have yet to be built. It is clear that making buildings energy efficient, as well as local producers of clean energy, is a priority for the country.
With the prices of renewable energy falling, it is now easier than ever to increase the consumption of clean energy in buildings. However, beyond the solar panels on the roofs, it is an appropriate time to start taking advantage of new spaces to increase the generation of clean energy.
With buildings growing in height in almost all large cities, it is natural to imagine the growth of solar energy in this vertical plane!
Vertical solar photovoltaic power installations in buildings have long proven to be a technically viable option. But it was not until the fall in the prices of photovoltaic solar energy, when this application is truly being an alternative.
BIPV, building integrated photovoltaic solar energy, in addition to serving as the building’s “skin”, solar modules can also generate clean energy in the process.
With a solar PV market share of approximately 1% in the world market, BIPV remains a small-scale application.
India’s Largest BIPV System
In 2019, U-Solar Clean Energy Solutions installed the largest building-integrated vertical solar PV system in India at a data center in Mumbai.
The system, with a capacity of approximately 1 MW, was installed by integrating solar panels on all four sides of the building’s façade, covering more than 465 square meters of façade area.
By replacing the glass used in the façade with photovoltaic modules we have created a solar power plant in the structure of the building, while the inverter and other components are housed inside the building. As the facility uses electricity 24/7, the BIPV solar plant offsets a portion of carbon emissions due to its dependence on electricity from the fossil fuel-based grid, an initiative taken by the data center to meet your sustainability goals.
R. Harinarayan, Founder and CEO of U-Solar.
Given that it was a building already built, the project was presented as a challenge and a limitation to take advantage of the full potential of solar generation.
It required the use of custom designed aluminum rails as the module mounting structure. Frameless panels were used on the facade. The panels were connected as they were placed on the structure, and the electrical and construction work were carried out simultaneously.
To get the most out of each photovoltaic panel, power optimizers were used on each board.
Power optimizers increase the energy production of photovoltaic systems by constantly monitoring the maximum power point (MPPT) of each module individually. They can also monitor the performance of each module.
U-Solar estimates that this solar power system will help provide a reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to almost 7,000 trees per year.
Advantages of vertical installation.
In recent years, the number of real estate projects opting for green certifications, both from LEED and from India’s own GRIHA rating systems, has steadily increased. This has gradually and steadily increased a larger market for local power generation as well as for energy efficiency.
However, most of the time, the roof available to install conventional solar systems is quite limited in tall buildings, as most of it is used for other building infrastructures.
The facade of the building can provide a much larger space that is not used for anything else.
With today’s technology, the opportunity arises to replace conventional glass used in commercial buildings with solar panels that can generate energy, thus reducing your energy footprint as well as providing an extra source of income.
The panels themselves can act as thermal insulation blocking the sun and thus also reducing the energy consumption of the air conditioning system.
The initial cost of the BIPV is partly offset by savings from the reduction of conventional construction materials and labor that would have been used normally. Once the solar power system is up and running, you also save on the “free” electricity generated by the system.
Typically, the payback period for a solar power plant is calculated based on the generation of the BIPV system over 25 years. If the life of the building is considered to be 50-100 years, it is clearly much shorter, and the BIPV system may need several reinvestments to extend its useful life. But it shouldn’t be a problem.
The return on investment of a typical rooftop solar system in India is 3-4 years for commercial consumers. If you consider the power generation of a BIPV system, which is about half that of a rooftop solar system, the return on investment should be around 8-9 years in an already constructed building.
In a building still in project, the amortization of the investment would occur sooner, the savings in the cost of the glass alone could reduce at least 20% of the payback period.
BIPV technology can be adapted to any building that requires a glass facade, including skyscrapers, shopping centers, apartments, modern houses, among others. U-Solar is working with apartment developers, shopping center owners and other data centers in the design phase to incorporate BIPV into both existing and new projects.
Compared to the global solar PV market, BIPV is still a small-scale solution.
However, new technologies entering the market are already increasing customization options, such as modules that have colored glass, as well as modules that allow visible light to pass through. These can accelerate the adoption of BIPV systems by improving the aesthetics of the building.