Chartreuse Blog

Building Integrated Photovoltaics
October 8, 2009, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Green Products | Tags: ,

Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are photovoltaic materials used in place of typical construction materials within the building envelop including facades and rain screens, roof surfaces, PV tiles, and solar shingles, and skylights and solar shades incorporating transparent or semi transparent photovoltaics.  Designing with BIPV, as opposed to non-integrated photovoltaics, can offset the high initial cost usually associated with renewable energy by reducing the cost of building materials and labor during construction.

Replacing heat reflective glass or tinted glass with transparent PV glass is a new and popular option and a great way to incorporate PVs into a building, though they are often less efficient than typical PV modules.  Transparent PV glass, where you cannot see the PV film, uses photovoltaic thin film which is the least efficient of all PV technology, approx. 9%, so far.  With that being said, that doesn’t mean that it is not a good system.  PV glass systems provide other benefits compared to heat reflective glass: PV glass cuts heat, visible light transmittance, and cuts UV, meaning that it will reduce energy costs besides generating electricity. 

More efficient transparent PV options are modules where  polycrystalline cells (more efficient than thin film, approx 12-14% efficiency) or monocrystalline cells (most efficient PV technology and most expensive, approx 14-18% efficiency) are sandwiched between layers of tempered glass.  The result is more like a screen than glazing but still transmits light between cells. 

Suntech Power, founded in 2001, is an international manufacturer of photovoltaic modules with sales offices and installation partners in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  Suntech’s America is located in San Francisco, CA and their corporate headquarters is located in China. 

Suntech has developed a range of photovoltaic options including their monocrystalline solar panels, polycrystalline solar panels, semi-transparent modules, and building integrated photovoltaic panels.  Their MSK Solar Design Line includes a few BIPV options such as the Just Roof Building Integrated Roofing System, See Thru Building Integrated Glazing System, and Light Thru Building Integrated Glazing System.

The See Thru system is a semitransparent photovoltaic glazing that looks like tinted glass (an example of the less efficient option) and is used for curtain walls, skylights, canopies, and other glazed surfaces.  See thru comes in 1%, 5%, and 10% transparencies.  The Light Thru system is an example of the more efficient transparent PV option.  It can be manufactured with monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells with varying cell to cell spacing.

To contact a local dealer for Suntech Power, email Suntech America at

To learn more, visit Suntech Power’s website at