BIPV Needs Architects and Builders Through 2016

The latest findings from Lux Research on the Built-In Photovoltaic (BIPV) market indicate that we have three more years of working with architects and small builders before a mass market effort can be launched.

Lead author Aditya Ranade is still convinced that means a hockey-stick of growth — a straight line pointing upward. He estimates that by 2016 there will be a $6 billion market with a capacity of one gigawatt of power.

An earlier study from NanoMarkets was even more optimistic, calling this a $11 billion market in 2016. (Shown is a new type of dye for solar windows, from a recent story at the American Chemical Society.)

In Europe, the residential market is leading due to French and Swiss feed-in tariffs and policymaker calls for Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB), which create as much energy as they use. The NZEB movement is also creating new markets in insulating materials, because the easy way to reduce the amount of electricity you need to make for NZEB is to reduce the amount you need to use to keep the place warm.

In the U.S. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), is a key acronym to know. Here, commercial builders are taking the lead, seeing low energy usage and some energy production as something that will cause higher rents.

The big challenge for BIPV materials is the actual cost of the electricity materials generate, against the actual cost of the material. Insulation and energy production both serve to improve the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for a building, and it’s this balance that architects can measure.

Ranade says this provides opportunity for a variety of materials, especially multicrystalline silicon, Cadmium Iridium Gallium Arsenide (CIGS) and Cadmium-Telluride (CdTe). The first material leads in roofs, the last in facades, and the second is the obvious choice in siding.

One thing the report doesn’t make clear is the importance of standards. The easier you can make installation, the cheaper you can make that installation system, the less labor you require to install a BIPV system, the lower its total cost and the closer it gets to grid parity, which is now the obvious industry goal.

Once grid parity is achieved the market for any material skyrockets. Feed-in tariffs and other aids are a short-term solution aimed at helping finance the work needed to reach that goal. The need for such aid currently is a serious industry weak point, with oil and coal advocates ignoring their own huge subsidies in order to go after the pittances being lost in this effort. But breaking that bond to politics is as vital, in its own way, as breaking the economy’s reliance on fossil fuels.

But this also means the big bucks are moving upstream from the companies that know how to install or finance solar power installations, who can profit from subsidized rates on their electricity, to those who specify and order BIPV systems for buildings. Companies like Ecotemis, which are training such people, are in a market sweet spot.

The difference between the market estimates of Lux and NanoMarkets comes down to assumptions of how quickly costs can be scaled down through standards, and how quickly people can be trained to specify these solutions. And, remember, we’re talking in both cases of global revenues, which can easily be impacted by government policies or industry breakthroughs.

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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