The State Of Solar Photovoltaics

A recent report from Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, concluded that lack of standardization, low production volumes, and formidable competition from building applied photovoltaics (BAPV) will hinder broader adoption of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) through 2013.

An example of BIPV, which is installed at an REI store in Boulder, CO. (Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin)
An example of BIPV, which is installed at an REI store in Boulder, CO. (Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin)

BIPV are PV components that replace the look and function of a primary building material, and are sold as a single unit. Compared with BIPV, BAPV encompass a broader class of building mounted photovoltaics and include some traditional roof mounted PV systems.

Entitled “Laying the Foundation for Building Integrated Photovoltaics,” Lux’s report sought to provide insights for building materials, chemical, and photovoltaics entities on: opportunities for entering the market; likely candidates for strategic partnerships; market developments and new technologies that will foster success; and how conventional and thin-film solar technologies will compete in specific applications

“The market may be too small to be a central interest to big players, but we see key opportunities for technology providers that can deliver BIPV components with an aesthetic differentiation—as opposed to a cost differentiation,” said Johanna Schmidtke, a Lux Research analyst and lead author of the report. “That also applies to architects and building envelope specialists who can distinguish their own businesses, while raising awareness of BIPV.”

The report taps Lux Research’s database of solar PV technology providers and installations for details about the 81 companies engaged in BIPV work. It includes intelligence gathered through 29 additional interviews with PV technology providers, module/system developers, PV installers, building suppliers, and architects to offer a comprehensive view of the BIPV market. Findings included:

High price points and a lack of standardization are slowing adoption. Highly customized products and low production volumes are putting a drag on BIPV’s claim that it lowers costs by streamlining installation of building product and PV technology. High price points will limit growth to $5.7 billion over 694 MW in 2013, signifying just 3.7% by volume of the overall solar market.

Improved regulation, building services, and materials could all boost demand. BIPV-specific subsidies and aesthetics have driven growth more than economic viability. But standardized regulations covering BIPV’s dual role as building component and PV technology could control customization issues, and reduce the technology’s prohibitive price points.

BAPV will dominate for the foreseeable future. BIPV currently wields aesthetic and subsidy-based advantages over BAPV retrofits. But PV module manufacturers are shoring up the aesthetic gap, which will further pressure BIPV players to decrease the price premium they exact.

“BIPV is nearing a crossroads,” said Schmidtke. “It will either continue to grow slowly as a highly specialized, aesthetic niche market, or bridge the gap between the PV and building industries. The latter path will require industry standards, as well as innovation and investment. But it also offers genuine growth opportunities for well positioned parties.”

Growth Of Solar Energy Industry Overall

Meanwhile, solar energy deployment increased at a record pace in the United States and throughout the world in 2008, according to another industry report. On March 19, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released its “2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review,” which

The SEIA report found U.S. solar energy capacity increased by 17% last year.
The SEIA report found U.S. solar energy capacity increased by 17% last year.

reaching the equivalent of 8,775 megawatts (MW). The SEIA report tallies all types of solar energy, and last year the United States installed 342 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) electric power, 139 thermal megawatts (MWTh) of solar water heating, 762 MWTh of pool heating, and 21 MWTh of solar space heating and cooling.

The growth rate was highest for grid connected PV electric systems, which increased by 58% to a total of 792 MW. California dominated this category, installing 178.6 MW of grid-tied PV, but the largest PV system, at 10 MW, was built in Boulder City, NV. Meanwhile, domestic PV manufacturing capacity increased by 65%, and preliminary estimates peg the total U.S. PV manufacturing capacity at 685 MW per year as of the end of 2008.

SEIA estimates that 342 MW of PV were installed throughout the United States in 2008, and although Solarbuzz LLC reached a higher number of 360 MW for its annual PV industry report, that growth rate is still dwarfed by the world’s fastest growing PV markets, namely, Spain and Germany. According to Solarbuzz, Spain added 2,460 MW of solar PV power in 2008, while Germany added 1,860 MW of PV power, leaving the United States in a distant third place. Solarbuzz estimates the global market growth at 5,950 MW in 2008. World PV production reached 6,850 MW per year in 2008, a significant jump up from the capacity of 3,440 MW per year for 2007. Contributing to that rapid growth, the production of thin-film solar modules more than doubled, reaching 890 MW per year by the end of 2008.


  1. We may all be relying on photovoltaic energy in the future, we need to spread the message loud and clear.

  2. I read your entire article and it agrees with my opinion on my website. I did dumb mine down for the homeowner and wrote it in a personal manner.

  3. Hello Fred, Thanks for your comment. The BAPV (building applied photovoltaics) term was included in the report information from Lux Research. I had not seen that term before either; however, it appears to be used in some instances (a Internet search of the term rendered a number of results for German websites, so perhaps is more commonly used in Europe). Also, I did not find the term on the SEIA website–another indication the term may not be very prevalent in the U.S.

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