Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)

It can be difficult to forecast trends, particularly in an age of unfathomable innovation, but it’s pretty safe to say that solar power is a key player in the energy space. 

Written by Carly Jacobs

As well as a growing residential market, solar has become a popular renewable energy source in recent years with architects and builders opting to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels during construction or renovations.

However, the standard PV panels have some limitations. Ideally, the roof should be angled towards the sun in a north or north-west facing direction and not be blocked by trees or shade from other buildings.

This can mean that many properties, such as apartment buildings and commercial office spaces, are often excluded from receiving the full benefit of traditional solar PV panels.

Taking it beyond the roof

In recognition of these challenges, the solar industry is working hard to move to the next level – beyond the roof.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV, is the next generation of solar PV. Developments in technology are seeing clever businesses integrate PV into a variety of building materials such as windows, tiles, glass, curtains and shingling; eradicating many of the physical restrictions on the use of traditional panels.

The technology allows architects the flexibility they need to design innovative buildings without restricting their creativity. They’re no longer required to compensate for add-on ‘after thought’ conventional solar PV systems, as they would have done in the past, or compromise on the energy efficiency of the structure.

This ‘green and clean’ modern architecture trend showcases a successful merging of design and sustainability, with acclaimed buildings across the world implementing this technology.

“The solar industry is working hard to move to the next level – beyond the roof”

Around the world

Unique building designs like the FKI Tower in Seoul use BIPV to create a building ‘skin’which provides power, light and shade. Integrated photovoltaics and automated moving BIPV panels are designed to ‘follow’ the sun, maximising energy harvesting throughout the day. The innovative skin also protects the building from the elements, reducing the need for heating and cooling.

Chicago is also a front-runner in BIPV innovation, contributing the iconic Willis Tower. Pythagoras Solar designed a PV energy solution for the existing 108 story building by installing Photovoltaic Glass Units or PVGU, which is a transparent solar paneling system using standard monocrystalline cells2.

Not to be left out, Brazil also made headlines after they staged the greenest Football World Cupin history in 2014, with the construction of the Mineiro Stadium. 

And it seems the sky’s the limit, with Japan planning to construct a solar power station in space by 2030.4

Closer to home

Global advancement in the solar industry is moving quickly, with many innovations being developed in our own backyard. In 2014, the first domestic home in Sydney unveiled its PV Colorbond steel integrated roofing system.It was introduced as a test phase for planned manufacturing and commercialisation of the technology.

While BIPV Colourbond is probably still a while off being commercially available, there are other options on the market in Australia. For example, integrated solar tiles and interlocking panels that sit flat on the roof6 are now available, which some may find more aesthetically pleasing to the eye compared to conventional solar panels.

In a world first, Australian scientist Paul Dastoor from the University of Newcastle is currently developing PV paint and integrated 3D printables,a technology that is likely to change the future landscape of solar integrated building development.

With all these technological developments and a market that welcomes the innovation, BIPV is an industry we should all be keeping our eye on.

About the author

Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.


  1. Green Building news, New Seoul Tower Features Landmark PV System, published 2 December 2014
  2.  L.Rapley, Five impressive integrated solar solutions for buildings, Architecture and Design, published 24 January 2014
  3. Illias Tsagas, solar power Brazil’s world Cup, published 12 June, PV magazines
  4. Susumu Sasaki, How Japan plans to build an orbital solar farm, published 24 April 2014, IEEE Spectrum 
  5. G. Chua and D.Wheeldon, Australia’s first solar-steel roof goes on show in Sydney, Architecture and Design, published 16 June 2014
  6. L.Rapley, Five impressive integrated solar solutions for buildings, Architecture and Design, published 24 January 2014
  7. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, solar paint

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