Building-integrated photovoltaics – a niche market with ample opportunities

Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) projects realised so far do not yet represent the full range of products available on the market: these include integratable crystalline modules, thin-layer modules, solar roof tiles, photovoltaic roof foils or complete solar roofs. So far BIPV products are still generally complex and thus costly products that are tailor-made according to special requirements for specific construction projects. That is why building-integrated photovoltaics is still a niche market. In co-operation with the Economic Forum (London, Munich and Bozen) the Solarserver points out in its Solar Report 11/2008 the BIPV markets in Europe, as well as the costs of BIPV, it shows hurdles in the process of winning market share and outlines the target groups for marketing and distribution. A market study on BIPV will be presented by the Economic Forum on occasion of the 3. ENERGY FORUM on Solar Architecture to be held on 09 December in Brixen (southern Tyrol).

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Solar fašade in Berlin-Adlershof with CIS modules from the manufacturer Sulfucell. Photovoltaic fašade with thin-layer modules by SCHOTT Solar.
Solar fašade in Berlin-Adlershof with CIS modules from the manufacturer Sulfucell (left). Photovoltaic fašade with thin-layer modules by SCHOTT Solar (right). Sources: Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V., SCHOTT Solar AG

State subsidies in Italy and France are of particular interest

The survey shows an increasing interest by architects and planners – but also that more intensive educational work on the actual costs of BIPV systems is required. According to the study the industry agrees that the BIPV market will grow and that BIPV could even develop into a mass product. Producers see the best opportunities in Germany, France, Italy and the USA. This optimism is fuelled by the worldwide growth of photovoltaics, in which BIPV will participate, albeit with low percentages. New energy feed-in laws and regulations for existing as well as new buildings that will prescribe the utilisation of reusable energies, could prove to be a driving force from which the BIPV will also benefit.

Currently building-integrated solar power systems make up less than 2% of the total photovoltaics market. The poor market penetration is caused not only by the higher costs but also by the fact that a large share of the BIPV systems are utilised in new construction projects but that these only make up a fraction of the total construction work. To ensure that, in spite of higher costs, more optically attractive BIPV systems will be built and to counteract disfigurement of buildings through non-integrated modules, state subsidies in Italy, France and from 2009 onward in Switzerland will provide a bonus for building-integrated photovoltaics. In Italy the subsidy for building integration on photovoltaics amounts to up to 9 cents per kWh of solar power. The market development in Germany, where within the framework of the Renewable Energy Law only a 5 cents bonus is paid and no incentive is planned from 2009 onward, has shown that this amount is insufficient to bring about a breakthrough for building-integrated photovoltaics. It remains to be seen whether and when building-integrated photovoltaics can achieve a higher market share in France where a bonus of 25 cents/kWh is paid for building-integrated photovoltaics, that is, five times the bonus paid in Germany until now.

Photovoltaic fašade in TŘbingen. Photovoltaic fašade in Freiburg.
Photovoltaic fašades in TŘbingen (left) and Freiburg (right). Sources: Sunways AG/Conergy AG; Solar-Fabrik AG.

Results of a survey among European manufacturers

In autumn 2008, 50 European manufacturers of BIPV products were questioned upon request by the ECONOMIC FORUM.1 None of the companies surveyed intended withdrawing from the German market only on the grounds of bonuses being cancelled. The volume of the German PV market and the awareness of PV are simply too big. The increasing degression (percentage decrease) of feed-in tariffs could, however, impact more negatively on the BIPV market than the imminent cancelling of the BIPV bonus.

Play with light and glass: BIPV opens new creative opportunities for architects

The amount of the feed-in tariff is of vital importance to BIPV manufacturers surveyed with regard to their commitment in European markets; the bonus for integrated systems is clearly subordinate. Currently BIPV is showing first signs of a period of blossoming. This can not only be seen in the photovoltaics industry but also in other industry sectors related to BIPV. For example, manufacturers from the roof -, fašade - and glass sectors are increasingly discovering the market potential of BIPV, not only in Germany but internationally.

Play with light and glass: BIPV opens new creative opportunities for architects. Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners

Table 1 shows the compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of the photovoltaic industry in the last 30, 20, 10 and 5 years.

BIPV markets in Europe

State subsidisation has led to Germany, France and Italy becoming the leading BIPV markets in Europe the survey among manufacturers showed. When asked for the most important markets for BIPV, Germany was clearly ranked first because this country is still by far the largest photovoltaics market worldwide and the market volume for BIPV with the total market volume is growing. Furthermore, this market is also enhanced by the existing production and distribution networks. High BIPV bonus in FranceFrance is currently developing into a “test market” of BIPV subsidisation, since the feed-in tariff for BIPV electricity is 57 cents/kW as opposed to 31 cents/kW for solar power from non-integrated systems. This implies a BIPV bonus to the amount of 83.3%. In addition, operators of PV systems in France receive a tax rebate of 50% of their material costs. The photovoltaic association Soler estimates the solar power output installed in 2008 to amount to 150 to 200 MW. The French government is aiming for targets of 1.100 MW by 2015 and 5.400 MW by 2020.BIPV also favoured in ItalyThe companies surveyed positioned Italy in third place after Germany and France. Currently 200 MW PV output have been installed there. The leading regions are Lombardy and southern Tyrol. With the amended subsidisation system "Conto Energia" the limitation for the subsidisation of installed PV output, the so-called PV ceiling, was removed. Since then the market has evolved strongly. Italy also gives preferential bonuses to building-integrated PV systems, but not in the same measure as France. For fully integrated systems with an output of up to 3 kW Italians receive 48 cents/kW.

Comparison of subsidisation of PV systems with/without BIPV in France and Italy:
Systems up to 3 kW Italy 2009 France 2008
no building-integration 39 cents/kW 31,19 cents/kW
with building-integration 48 cents/kW 57,19 cents/kW
Bonus subsidisation 23 % 83,3 %

Subsidisation of solar power is reduced by 2% per annum in Italy; in France, however, it is increased by the annual inflation rate. In Italy, the tariff is increased by a further 5 % if

  • at least 70% of the electricity produced is for own consumption (applies to systems of over 3 kW)
  • the systems are for schools and hospitals
  • the systems replace eternite or asbestos-containing roofs
  • the systems are for public administrations of local authorities with less than 5 000 residents.

Spain: trend shifts from open spaces to buildings

According to the survey, Spain has slid to fourth position in terms of it being favoured by the companies. In October 2008 the feed-in tariffs dropped from 42 cents/kW to 34 cents/kW (32 cents/kW for plants above 20 kW). The maximum output of roof systems was restricted to 2 MW from 28.09.2008 when the Royal Decree 1578/2008 was passed; that of ground systems was restricted to 10 MW. The entire output that may be allocated for the whole of Spain per year is 267 MW for roof systems and 133 MW for ground systems (generation ceiling). Within the framework of an interim regulation an additional 100 MW for roof systems and 60 MW for open-space solar parks were allowed for 2009 and 2010. Those investors who have thus far focused on large-scale solar parks now need to rethink strategically and look into smaller systems on and around buildings. No bonus for building-integrated systems exists in Spain. The Spanish construction order of 2006 (“Cˇdigo TÚcnico de Edificaciˇn, in short: CTE), however, prescribes solar power systems for office buildings from a surface area of 4 000 m2. “Large supermarkets, shopping and entertainment centres, warehouses, administrative buildings, hotels and guesthouses, hospitals and exhibition halls must utilise technical systems that transform solar energy into electricity in order to provide their own electricity or to feed into the grid,” it reads in the CTE clause on energy-saving measures.

New standard for certification of buildings in England

In the medium term England could also develop into a BIPV market. With the new energy certificate the standard of “Zero Carbon Home” will be obligatory for all newly constructed buildings. The CO2 emissions generated from energy consumption must equal zero. By way of a point system the construction processes, the utilisation of resources, air quality, materials and surface area used will be assessed. For an improvement of the energy balance, PV systems will be of importance. With this model, England will be taking on an exemplary role in the certification of buildings.

The companies that participated in the survey also agreed that state guidelines were necessary to promote photovoltaics and its integration into buildings. They stated that legal regulations for newly constructed buildings were of utmost importance. Architects that have already looked into photovoltaics would also welcome such regulations. According to an EU study in which over 70 architects, engineers and planners were questioned, legislation enforcing the use of solar power technology would “have a significantly positive effect on the utilisation of photovoltaics” because this would force customers “to consider photovoltaics in the early stages of projects already.2

Transparent solar modules

integration of photovoltaic laminates in a roof.

Transparent solar modules (left); integration of photovoltaic laminates in a roof. Sources: Vidur Solar; Corus

The companies questioned by ECONOMIC FORUM thus also demand better lobbying by associations so that the legislature will pass the required regulations. With BIPV systems still being prestige projects, they are of interest for developers and architects as image or marketing projects in many countries; therefore, BIPV suppliers may also look into countries that offer no feed-in compensation. An expert in the field demands that not only the feed-in tariffs be considered, but that the focus should rather be shifted to the competitiveness of BIPV components in comparison to other construction elements – and thus to the time after attainment of competitiveness (grid parity) and the fading out of feed-in laws. Therefore not only the currently lucrative European markets should be targeted, but the developing markets should also be considered, for example, China, India, Russia and the USA.3

Obstacles in gaining market share, bureaucracy in France

Bureaucracy and regional standards prevent suppliers from entering into new markets. The companies questioned had particularly noted bureaucratic obstacles in exploring the French market. In France the obstacles are primarily the costly certification of solar components that must be acquired by foreign manufacturers, as well as the French insurance system that requires a local certificate. Photovoltaic companies often face the problem that French customers require an additional technical test and certification of the photovoltaic product in spite of it being EU certified. The tests are done by the Centre Scientifique et Technique du BÔtiment (CSTB). The CSTB is responsible for technical testing as well as the administration of standardisation of building products and does inspections for a certain product range at a price of up to € 15 000 and for individual products at a price of up to € 5 000. The operator of a PV system is not explicitly obliged to have a technical inspection done by the CSTB, but an indirect obligation exists because the fitter is obliged in terms of liability to use only such system components that comply with the respectively valid standards. Companies installing BIPV systems in France are subject to a ten-year warranty and must insure themselves for possible damage claims during such period. French insurance companies, however, find it problematic to assess foreign standards and thus request CSTB certification. Advertising a PV module without a CSTB certificate is thus a significant disadvantage in terms of competitiveness.4

Lack of information among architects and planners

Another obstacle the surveyed manufacturers encountered in developing the market, was the lack of know-how among architects and planners. Even with BIPV manufacturers currently noting an increased interest among architects and planners, it is precisely this professional group that is considered to be a barrier in the distribution of integrated systems. A lack of information among architects was also noted by Susanne Rexroth of the Berlin University of Technology and Economics, "Technology has always been neglected by architects.” Architects rather considered themselves as creative persons, artists and designers – technology definitely played a subordinate role. Among young colleagues, however, she noted more open-mindedness towards renewable energies.

Photovoltaic integration must become an integral part in the planning of building projects. Photovoltaic integration must become an integral part in the planning of building projects.
Photovoltaic integration must become an integral part in the planning of building projects.
Source: Vidur Solar; Roto

In the planning phase of construction projects, solar technology still needs to secure its position. Integrated PV systems touch on numerous trades that have knowledge of their restricted field only. The planning and installation of solar systems has not yet been established in the thinking of fašade -, glass - and metal workers, as well as heating - and airconditioning fitters, electricians and roofers. They lack a holistic understanding of building-integrated photovoltaics that should already be part of the planning phase of a construction project.5 Experts in the field consider the improved co-operation between the various tradespeople to be a significant potential in reducing the costs.

Target groups for marketing and distribution

In order to address this lack of information, manufacturers are targeting their marketing primarily at architects, planners and engineering offices. In second position they approach construction companies and developers. Only then – and depending on the focus of the company – end consumers and wholesalers are addressed. The processing industry and the roofing trade are also among the target groups. Among the marketing measures used, consultation during trade fairs has been ranked as being most effective. Particular mention was made of construction trade fairs, such as the BAU (Munich), the Construmat (Barcelona) and the Batimat (Paris), as well as solar trade fairs, such as the Intersolar (Munich) and the SolarExpo (Verona).

The second position of preferred marketing activities is taken by so-called light-tower projects, that is, usually very costly projects that stand out above the rest.6 Furthermore, manufacturers participate in competitions, invite architects to workshops and seminars or acquire new distribution partners through road shows. Susanne Rexroth considers architects’ competition to be an opportunity to spread the use of photovoltaics. Being an architect herself, she thus recommends that BIPV be included as a condition in the tenders for such competitions. Participants would then be obliged to look into the field of photovoltaics. She recommends that the competitions be offered by official and neutral institutions, because competitions offered by, for example, the Association of German architects, the Association of German Engineers or the Federal Council of Architects were more accepted than competitions offered by companies. Local authorities could also play a leading role in this regard.7

Building-integrated solar power system of the company Solar-Fabrik AG in Freiburg.
Building-integrated solar power system of the company Solar-Fabrik AG in Freiburg. Source: Solar-Fabrik AG

In the field of distribution, manufacturers who participated in the survey mainly addressed fitters and wholesellers, but also architects, fašade - and metal builders, roofers, the roofing trade as well as energy suppliers and independent electricity suppliers. Regarding potential, the survey indicated that roof-integrated systems were preferred to fašade systems. Industrial buildings were ranked higher than office buildings, which in turn were ranked higher than residential houses. Newly constructed buildings and existing buildings were given the same potential.
The sales arguments focus on multiple usage of the building fašade, an image boost for the operator and the aesthetics of the system. Differences in opinion exist regarding the financial advantages for the operator through the feed-in tariffs. One half of the companies surveyed mentioned feed-in tariffs as an argument in favour of these systems, the other half did not. A similar tendency was noted regarding the protection of the environment and the reduction of CO2 emissions, with a slight tendency towards using this argument. Energy independence was no sales argument for the majority of the people surveyed.

Further sales arguments that were mentioned:

  • easy installation of integrated systems with conventional roofing tools
  • enhanced value of the property
  • future-oriented building materials
  • cost saving and better utilisation of the surfaces by avoiding additional stands
  • roof and PV from one company avoid damages to the roof during subsequent installation.

The sales arguments hardly differ in the various countries. Partially they are adapted to the respective framework conditions/feed-in tariffs. In southern countries, protection from the sun through BIPV systems is used as an argument, in conjunction with a reduction in electricity costs for air-conditioning.

Additional costs of BIPV are sometimes over-estimated

Higher costs and more work during planning are two of the main reasons for the low distribution of BIPV. The BIPV companies that participated in the survey thus demand from the photovoltaic suppliers to reduce the costs. The faster grid parity8 can be achieved, the faster photovoltaics will become a sure-fire success of which BIPV will also benefit. It is difficult to establish what the general costs for BIPV are, because BIPV components are normally tailor-made productions. This also explains the wide price ranges that are mentioned. In comparison to the approx. 4 000 € for one kilowatt of photovoltaic output gained from standard modules, integrated systems lead to overall costs of approx. 10 000 € per kilowatt, or 7 000 € to 8 000 € for photovoltaic components plus the costs for glass and integration.

Building-integrated solar power production.

In workshops held by the British consulting company Ove Arup & Partners within the framework of the BIPV-CIS study for the EU, it became evident that architects, engineers and planners estimated the costs for BIPV to be even higher – that is, their estimates were too high. When participants in the workshop were confronted with the actual costs for BIPV, they were impressed that the amortisation period of solar fašades was lower than they had thought and that their costs were comparable with costs of an extravagant conventional fašade, for example from marble. In contrast to a traditional fašade system, a solar fašade can refinance itself during its lifecycle if state feed-in tariffs are guaranteed.

Building-integrated solar power production.
Photo: Abakus Solar AG

Abakus Solar AG (Cologne) proved by way of an exemplary BIPV system in Italy that a solar fašade can amortise within thirty years9 that is, the entire building fašade, not only the integrated photovoltaic system.

Tailwind for BIPV within the framework of global photovoltaic expansion

The BIPV-CIS study of the EU and the calculation by Abakus Solar prove that intensive education on the actual costs of BIPV systems is required. Many of the manufacturers who participated in the survey requested more training workshops to be offered for architects, planners and construction companies. The strong global growth of photovoltaics, in which the BIPV is to have its share, leads to optimism – even if the market share still continues to be small. The potential of PV should not be underestimated, as the example of Germany shows. In this country, not even one percent of the electricity demand is covered by photovoltaics. The Federal Association of Solar Economy in Germany (BSW-Solar), however, anticipates that the share of photovoltaics in the overall electricity supply will increase to about 10% by 2030. In absolute figures this will also lead BIPV to grow. According to EuPD Research, the market share of BIPV will also grow in Italy; by 2010 28% of Italian PV systems are to be building-integrated.10

Even the latest developments in the USA (Investment Tax Credit) will give strong impetus to the PV market. And worldwide the new solar power compensation tariff systems, as well as regulations and directives for existing buildings and new buildings that prescribe the utilisation of renewable energies, will act as driving forces that will also benefit BIPV in Europe.

A summary of the study will be published on 09 December 2008 in the Forum Proceedings of the 3. ENERGY FORUM “Solararchitektur und Solares Bauen”. ISBN: 978-3-9812053-1-2. It is available from

Material and background information: Economic Forum Ltd. Solarserver editor: Rolf Hug



1The results presented here are based on a survey that was conducted among 50 European manufacturers of products of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) that was conducted upon request by the ECONOMIC FORUM LTD in autumn 2008. This summary will be published in the Forum Proceedings of the 3. ENERGY FORUM on Solar Architecture, Brixen, 09-10.12.2008, ISBN 978-3-982053-1-2

2BIPV-CIS Research Project, Market Study Report, Work Package 3, European Commission, April 2006

3In the USA, Congress passed the 700 billion dollar programme to save the banks on 03.10.08 and at the same time amended the Investment Tax Credit Act. According to these developments the ceiling for the tax rebate of US$ 2000 that was granted on 30% of the investment sum, now falls away. In addition, the energy suppliers that are legally obliged to offer electricity from alternative sources can now apply this tax rebate on a large scale. The law is in effect for eight years and constitutes a significant breakthrough for solar energy in the USA. According to many observers, the law will have more impact on the American solar market than the election victory of Barak Obama.

4Source: Praxisreport Solarmarkt Frankreich 2008/2009, Deutsche Energie-Agentur, Berli

5According to a study by the International Energy Agency, IEA Paris, the technical dialogue between the builders of fašades and photovoltaic suppliers has ample room for improvement, because these two specialised fields still speak different languages. The IEA report investigated the interfaces and the possible spread of work between the fašade planners and the photovoltaic expert planners. 48% of the companies surveyed regularly received requests regarding photovoltaic systems, but the “majority of those who responded (90%) had not carried out one single project over the last two years.” The integration of photovoltaics reoccurred repeatedly as an idea, but was never realised. Source: Solararchitektur und Solares Bauen, Forum Proceedings of the 2. ENERGY FORUM, Brixen 2007, S.7/8

6Light-tower projects are generally large-scale projects, such as the large sport centres in Oldenburg and TŘbingen with their fašade-integrated PV systems, or the Lehrter Station in Berlin with its roof-integrated modules.

7A current competition in the field of BIPV is the European Award for Building-Integrated Solar Technology 2008. The Solarenergief÷rderverein Bayern e.V. (SEV), together with the Bavarian Council of Architects, the Association of German Architects and the magazine Detail praised this initiative. The competition took place for the fourth time in 2008 and was for the first time launched throughout Europe. Fabian Flade from the SEV sees the good participation this year as a sign for BIPV gaining support among architects. At the beginning of October, 51 interested persons had registered, 40 participants submitted their applications. They come from nine European states: about one half from Germany, the other half from Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland. (

8Grid parity: if the price of solar power is identical to the price of standard power.

9Publication by Erhard Krausen, abakus solar AG, on the 3. ENERGY FORUM, 09 December 2008 (see Forum Proceedings of the 3. ENERGY FORUM on Solar Architecture, Brixen, 09-10.12.2008, ISBN 978-3-9812053-1-2).10

10Source: Sarah Endres, EuPD Research, Presentation of the study “The Italian Photovoltaic Market 2008 – Overcoming Obstacles” at the construction fair SAIE Energia in Bologna, 17.10.2008; quoted in “II Sole 24 Ore”, 22.11.2008)

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