How BIPV could offer a solution to the European energy efficiency dilemma

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At the beginning of June 2015 the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ECEEE) biennial summer study in Toulon/Hyeres, France, explored solutions to our energy-related dilemmas by providing evidence-based knowledge on the full range of energy efficiency topics, as well in relation to renewable energies. The focus of this year’s conference was ‘Energy Efficiency First Fuel – Now’ and was related to the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan and Energy Union main topics of energy efficiency and renewable energies.

Among the various issues of the conference, energy efficiency in buildings, cities and policy frameworks was considered in relation to renewable energy production and use in ‘nearly-zero-energy buildings’ (NZEB). Specific topics were discussed about energy use in buildings, with reference to projects, technologies and innovation. Here follow some considerations about the challenges and also the huge opportunities for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) in the frame of positive-energy buildings (PEB).

Buildings represent the largest energy-consuming sector in the global economy, accounting for over one-third of all energy and half of global electricity. In Europe, buildings account for around 40% of total energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions and therefore present a huge potential for energy efficiency and production of renewable energies integrated into buildings, in particular PV/BIPV, as well as heat pumps, ground-source energy, solar thermal, etc.

As such it is a major focus not only for climate policy, but also for delivering energy security and economic efficiency. Under business-as-usual projections, global energy use in buildings could double or even triple by 2050.

The SET Plan and Energy Union both refer to the importance of energy efficiency and integration of renewable energies, and BIPV is an excellent option in this direction. Buildings are important for the energy system of the future with energy efficiency measures and with the integration of renewable energies in the frame of the SET Plan and the Energy Union, leading the way to NZEB and possible future Plus Energy Buildings. Storage issues are also important for the energy system of the future, and buildings offer in this regard a great opportunity in the smart city approach.

Unlocking the immense energy saving potential of buildings requires not only ambitious legislative frameworks and policy programmes, but also the continued research and development of innovative building techniques and technologies, and the dissemination of learnings from real-world best-practice projects. To address the challenges of transforming the energy use in buildings and to allow for their better integration into the future energy systems, a long-term and multi-dimensional perspective is required.

On the other hand, it is important that locally produced energy – including from renewables such as BIPV – can be absorbed easily and efficiently into the grid. Promoting EU technological leadership, through developing the next generation of renewables technology, including innovative BIPV products, while European companies expand exports and compete globally, is essential for Europe’s energy concept and energy security. New or deeply retrofitted buildings, districts or cities need to integrate renewable energies such as PV to be able to reach the objectives of near-zero energy or even positive energy (when more energy is produced locally than is consumed), and need to be interactive with the other elements of the local or global energy systems.

BIPV and innovation in this sector goes hand in hand with the implementation and delivery of building techniques and technologies that improve the energy performance of buildings and consider buildings as an integral and active part of the energy system as a whole. Key to their effectiveness will also be the development of ICT and smart technologies, with reference to the development of the 'internet of things'.

For the development of NZEB and positive-energy buildings, new approaches to improving energy performance in buildings are essential, meaning there is huge potential for the development of innovative new building technologies, together with innovative use concepts for buildings and urban districts, to promote the integration of renewables such as PV in buildings.

Opportunities for BIPV innovation to drive the PV market

The further strong development of BIPV technologies and products, developed in close collaboration possibly with the building industry, may also be an important driver for the PV market generally, following the well-known problems and downturn of the European PV industry and research facilities in recent years. Therefore BIPV offers huge potential for the European PV sector. Further declines in the cost of PV technology will be an important factor for BIPV, unleashing an expected US$3.7 trillion surge in investment in solar, both large-scale and small-scale, according to recent figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

BIPV in the EU: a fast-growing PV market segment driven by energy efficiency

BIPV is expected to become the fastest growing PV market segment in EU. The recast directive on the energy performance of buildings (EPBD) stipulates that all new buildings constructed within the European Union after 2020 should reach nearly zero-energy levels. This means that in less than five years, all new buildings must demonstrate very high energy performance, and their reduced or very low energy needs will be significantly covered by renewable energy sources.

BIPV is expected to play a crucial role in realising these objectives, and will thus evolve from a niche into a high-volume market. For Europe there is an opportunity to build industry leadership in high added-value BIPV activities, capitalising on its existing industry excellence in areas such as network control, building materials and architectural design, while simultaneously boosting its ailing construction sector.

The way ahead – collaboration among PV industry, architects and building industry

The way forward to NZEB by 2020 and the opportunity to reverse the downturn of the European photovoltaic industry in recent years offer huge potential for the BIPV market to develop from a niche market into a future large-scale market of the European PV industry, creating innovative products and jobs with the necessary financial support. Crucial for this is the close collaboration of the PV industry with the building industry and the creation of innovative competitive BIPV products to promote NZEB and possibly future postitive-energy buildings. The potential for collaboration between the building industry (in the frame of enhanced energy efficiency) and the renewable energy sector (in particular the PV and BIPV industry) is enormous and is essential for reaching the NZEB and plus-energy building goals in line with the enhancement of renewable energy power production.

Up until now there has not been enough collaboration between the building industry, architects and the PV industry, in particular the BIPV segment. There are gaps in common issues for innovation and European competitiveness in sectors of common interest, for example energy efficiency and renewable energy production. Greater collaboration on these issues this could offer great opportunities for BIPV and new products for the market.

All the above issues will be discussed and explored in the 8 July event, ‘Where sustainability meets aesthetics: Energy efficiency in buildings and building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV)’, in London, organised by the EU PV Technology Platform and in cooperation with SETA Network. Further information is available here. Further information on the work of the SETA Network is available at seta@gmx.net

Building-integrated PV could help cut emissions from buildings in Europe. Image: Issolsa, Wikimedia Commons.
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