U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Tribal Energy Program

Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)

Photo of a building integrated with solar electric systems.

Building-integrated solar electric systems combine function with aesthetics.

Building-integrated solar electric systems produce electrical power from sunlight and are also an integral part of the building. One advantage of incorporating solar electric materials into a roof, skylight, or awning is that it can reduce the cost of the system. Blending solar electric features into the structure of a building takes advantage of high reliability and reduces the overall cost of the system because the solar components perform two functions-they replace traditional building materials such as tile, brick, or glass and they generate electricity-while also taking advantage of the existing structural elements of the building.

Photo of houses with solar electric panels.

Solar electric panels can be integrated into roofing materials, providing a functional, attractive roof that also generates electricity (the home on the right has a PV roof).

Another advantage of blending solar with traditional building materials is aesthetics. Some building owners believe they can't use solar because it isn't compatible with traditional architecture. Because solar modules now come in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes, it's possible to integrate solar modules into almost any structural design. For example, buildings with standing-seam metal roofs can use solar module material referred to as "thin film" that can be rolled out inside the standing seams. Commercial or residential buildings with traditional roof shingles can use solar modules that resemble traditional roof shingles. Solar panels can also be rolled out onto a flat surface to cover a porch or awning, and more traditional panels can be used as the porch cover itself. Solar modules can also be used inside glass or other transparent material to provide additional daylight to the building's interior. Some businesses are now using solar panels to cover their parking lots to provide shade for customer vehicles. As long as the basic principles are followed so that panels are orientated to the south without obstructions from other building parts or landscaping, today's solar materials offer a variety of possibilities for building integration.