Photovoltaics (PV) has experimented an exponential increase in the last 10 years and this trend is expected to continue with the support of feed-in-tariff policies in some countries and the on-going production costs reduction. The situation for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is, however, radically different from that of general PV industry. Despite the impressive figures for the photovoltaic market, current deployment for BIPV applications has still a large room for improvement.

New products must be developed in order to overcome technical and non-technical barriers for BIPV at a European scale. A higher degree of standardization is needed in order to facilitate the labour of architects and engineers. A complete characterisation of the products, at laboratory, experimental building and real building scale and the development of extensive product catalogues with exhaustive product performance description are essential in order to encourage the incorporation of BIPV products into construction works. Finally, carefully planned dissemination strategies are important to contribute to a wider knowledge of the technology and its possibilities by all the parties involved in BIPV.

The aim of BFIRST project is the development and demonstration of a set of standardised, multifunctional photovoltaic building components based on a recently developed technology for solar cells encapsulation within glass fibre-reinforced composite materials.

By means of this new technology, cell encapsulation within composite materials takes place in a single step, yielding a self-supporting, monolithic and lightweight photovoltaic module. Curved and complex geometries can be obtained, opening a wide range of new BIPV products with enhanced building integration possibilities. Moreover, by using a composite material, in which the cells and their connections are completely embedded, the need to use additional materials as a base or covering is eliminated. Protective coating materials can also be added, either onto the mould during the manufacturing process, or afterwards, once the component has been released from the tool.

The resulting PV modules present advanced characteristics in terms of structural capacity, transparency, adaptability to non-planar geometries, protection, weight and reduction of stages in the manufacturing process, as well as issues concerning transport, manipulation, assembly and safety and security.

Five standardized BIPV components have been proposed to be demonstrated within the project. These products are a ventilated, hybrid PV/T fa├žade module, a solar shading system, a prefabricated PV fibre-reinforced pane either for curtain walls or skylights and solar PV tiles.

In addition to these products, a wider number of BIPV solutions based on fibre-reinforced encapsulation technology will be created. Multifunctionality of these components will be maximised in order to comply with existing building codes and standards, with the specific goal of enhancing the global energy efficiency of the building.

Laboratory testing following EN standards will be carried out in order to offer a complete characterisation which helps designers, installers and final users making an optimal profit of the possibilities of the products. Applicable standards include both photovoltaic and construction aspects of the modules.

Experimental buildings offer the possibility of testing PV components beyond a laboratory environment, exposed to the interactions with the rest of building elements, but in relatively controlled conditions. An evaluation of the performance of the development elements in this context will be made at Kubik experimental facility, inaugurated by Tecnalia in 2010 and located near Bilbao (Spain) and at three experimental sites provided by ENEA in Portici, Casaccia and Saluggia (Italy).

Three demonstration buildings will be available for the project:

  • Large experimental facility for smart-grids electrical testing: INGRID. (Bilbao, Spain). New building.
  • Uni-familiar residential house (Pikermi, Attica region, Greece). Retrofitting.
  • Residential complex, several uses (Mons, Belgium). New building

The scope of effort by the consortium of this project will also be expanded to areas including education and training of designers/architects. To maximize the effectiveness of this effort, the development of such training and education programs will consider the needs of stakeholders in the building industry as well.