New project aims to turn buildings into energy producers

The EU research project Be-Smart aims to make it easier and less expensive to integrate photovoltaic systems into buildings. The project is being coordinated by the Swiss institute for technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

Be-Smart has set its sights on turning buildings into energy producers by stepping up the deployment of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). These are photovoltaics that can be used directly in building and renovation projects and that serve as a construction material in their own right.

According to an EPFL statement, BIPV has the potential to transform buildings into electricity producers and reduce CO2 emissions. But until now, the technology has not been used much beyond flagship building projects.

To this end, the project partners – which include research institutes, innovative companies, and architecture and construction firms from across Europe – will design multifunctional solar panels that not only produce energy but can also do the job of other building materials, such as insulation, soundproofing or aesthetic qualities. They will also work towards slashing the costs of BIPV by 75 per cent by 2030 to make this technology far more accessible.

“The technology is different from that used in solar panels, which are designed for mass production and now manufactured primarily in China,” said Laure-Emmanuelle Perret-Aebi of EPFL. BIPV technology, in contrast “stands to boost European industry”.

As EPFL explains, BIPV has already proven itself in Switzerland, where more than 10,000 roofs have already been built in this way. The photovoltaic panels used are available in various shapes and colours, allowing the technology to fit into the vernacular architecture. What’s more, the extra expense of using this technology is paid off in 10 to 30 years, without even making use of potential subsidies or selling back the electricity used. And all this with reduced CO2 emissions.

“There is really no reason not to integrate photovoltaic panels into new buildings – it should be the norm,” said Christophe Ballif, EPFL professor.

Image credit: EPFL

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