Solar technology has enormous potential, but it has been underutilized. To get an idea of just how underutilized it is, consider that every 24 hours the amount of sunlight that hits the Earth could provide energy for the entire planet for 24 years. Of course, it is necessary to collect it properly, through photovoltaic systems. With the climate crisis increasingly present in our daily lives, causing growing concerns about obtaining energy from renewable sources and reducing carbon emissions, using the sun's possibilities to generate clean energy seems to be a path of no return. But there are still some difficulties that reduce its use, such as obtaining economical solar products, aesthetics, availability of these products, regulations, and even installation issues.
Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPVs, offer the design and construction industry solutions to typical challenges that hinder adoption of solar energy. Below, we list the main challenges of incorporating solar energy into projects and how they can be overcome.
Integrating Solar into Buildings
Currently, the most traditional model is that of blue/black, rectangular photovoltaic panels attached to the building's roof, sometimes at different slopes or angles from the roof. Although these products generate electricity, there are major flaws inherent in their design: they detract from the aesthetics of a building, they are difficult to customize by size, the available colors are restrictive, and they can be easily distinguished from non-BIPV (Building-Integrated Photovoltaics) sections. Recent advances worldwide in building-integrated photovoltaics have led to installations such as solar shingles, solar glass cladding, and solar shutters.
Mitrex, for example, is focused on making truly integrated products, overcoming the challenges of traditional solar products. Their solar cladding generates electricity while acting as a beautiful and durable building envelope. Customizable solar glass can replace any glass needed in a building while acting as a solar power generation system.
We know that photovoltaic systems are still expensive, even though they are becoming increasingly accessible to larger portions of the population. But one issue must be taken into account: the buildings that use them generally demand a construction envelope and then, additionally, roof solar panels, which ends up doubling the costs. By integrating solar technology into building elements such as exterior walls, windows, balcony railings and the like, it is possible to eliminate much of the additional investment in solar and sustainable technology that is normally required. The Mitrex company has developed a wide range of solutions for this: “We believe that the rapid, low-cost and sustainable manufacturing of integrated photovoltaic systems is economically viable and is the path to a brighter future for humanity. Our integrated solar products and innovative business practices reflect this belief.”
Another innovation can be seen in their business model. The company develops purchase options to reduce costs and enable mass adoption, with the goal of making building-integrated solar construction materials cost-comparable to traditional materials. For example, Mitrex offers a revenue-sharing purchase option that reduces the upfront costs of solar and shares the revenue generated from the renewable energy made from the building facade.
Rethinking the Aesthetics of Photovoltaic Panels
The adoption of solar panels has been hampered by poor design and limited choices. One inhibitor to adoption is the inability to customize the size of solar panels. Other integrated solar products are generally limited by one or two possible size options. Mitrex, for example, can manufacture solar cladding and glass in many different sizes, including multiple panels with minimal differences, based on the needs of the architectural design.
Balancing beauty and efficiency is an endless process. The efficiency of photovoltaic products depends on the level of light transmitted through the glass covering the solar cells. Perfectly transparent glass will not significantly impede light transmission, but it will force designers to accept the blue-black color of solar cells. To give designers more freedom, Mitrex applies colors or patterns to the protective glass to hide the color of the solar cells to suit any vision.
For example, for lovers of natural stone, patterns can be as beautiful as Calcutta marble or as luxurious as Azul Bahia granite. For minimalists, the clean lines of wood and precast concrete are easily achieved. There is little aesthetic difference between two side-by-side cladding sections where one is photovoltaic and the other is not. Mitrex also offers customizable solar glazing that suits windows, curtain walls, skylights, and balcony railings in compliance with local prevailing codes. Architects and designers can choose the level of transparency of the glass, and the available color hues will ensure that it fully matches the rest of the façade. By focusing on design as well as renewable energy technology, the company is able to promote the rapid adoption of integrated solar technology.
For solar technology to achieve greater acceptance, it is important to abandon certain preconceived notions. Mitrex has been working to create countless new possibilities in the development of buildings, offering low carbon and green energy production technologies, which combine aesthetics, adequate cost, and design integration. That is, instead of buying cladding from one company, handrails from another, and solar panels from a third, Mitrex allows homeowners and developers to combine their needs into one service. It is up to us, architects and building builders, to participate in this expansion of sustainable solar energy.