The energy consumption of buildings accounts for more than a third of the total energy consumption in India. Add to that the fact that over 70% of the buildings to be constructed in India in 2030 have yet to be built. It is clear that making energy efficient buildings, as well as local clean energy producers, is a priority for the country.

With the prices of renewable energy falling, it is now easier than ever to increase the use of clean energy in buildings. However, beyond rooftop solar panels, now is the time to start taking advantage of new spaces to increase clean energy production.

With buildings growing taller in almost every major city, it’s natural to imagine solar power growing in this vertical plane!

Vertical solar PV installations in buildings have long proven to be a technically viable option. But it was not until the fall in the price of solar photovoltaic energy for this application to be truly an alternative.

BIPV, photovoltaic solar energy integrated into buildings, in addition to serving as the “skin” of the building, solar modules can also generate clean energy in the process.

With a solar PV market share of around 1% in the global market, BIPV remains a small-scale application.

India’s Largest BIPV System

In 2019, U-Solar Clean Energy Solutions installed the largest vertical solar photovoltaic system integrated into a building in India in a data center in Mumbai.

The system, with a capacity of around 1 MW, was installed by integrating solar panels on all four sides of the building facade, covering more than 465 square meters of facade area.

By replacing the glass used in the facade with photovoltaic modules, we have created a solar power plant in the building structure, while the inverter and other components are housed inside the building. As the facility uses electricity 24/7, the BIPV solar power plant offsets some of the carbon emissions due to its reliance on electricity from the fossil fuel-based grid, an initiative taken by the data center to achieve your sustainability goals.

R. Harinarayan, Founder and CEO of U-Solar.

Given that this was an already constructed building, the project was presented as a challenge and a limitation to take full advantage of the potential of solar generation.

This required the use of custom designed aluminum rails as the mounting structure for the modules. Frameless panels were used on the facade. The panels were connected as they were placed on the structure, and electrical and construction work was carried out simultaneously.

To get the most out of each photovoltaic panel, power optimizers have been used on each board.

Power optimizers increase the power output of photovoltaic systems by continuously 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 reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to nearly 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 India’s own GRIHA rating systems, has steadily increased. This has gradually and steadily widened a larger market for local power generation as well as for energy efficiency.

However, most of the time the roof available for the installation of conventional solar systems is quite limited in high rise buildings, as most of them are used for other construction infrastructure.

The facade of the building can provide a much larger space that is not used for anything else.

With today’s technology, the opportunity presents itself to replace conventional glass used in commercial buildings with solar panels capable of generating energy, thereby reducing your energy footprint and providing an additional 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 partially offset by the savings achieved through the reduction of conventional building materials and labor that would have been used normally. Once the solar power system is up and running, you also save on “free” electricity generated by the system.

Typically, the payback period of a solar power plant is calculated based on the output of the BIPV system over 25 years. If the lifespan of the building is considered to be between 50 and 100 years, it is clearly much shorter and the BIPV system may require several reinvestments to extend its useful life. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

The return on investment for a typical solar roof system in India is 3-4 years for commercial consumers. If you consider the power output 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 a building already built.

In a building still in the pipeline, the amortization of the investment would occur sooner, the savings in the cost of glass alone could reduce the payback period by at least 20%.

BIPV technology can be adapted to any building requiring a glass facade, including skyscrapers, shopping malls, apartments, modern homes, among others. U-Solar works with apartment developers, owners of shopping malls and other data centers in the design phase to integrate BIPV into existing and new projects.

Compared to the global solar photovoltaic market, BIPV remains a small-scale solution.

However, new technologies coming to the market are already increasing the customization options, such as colored glass modules, 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.