BIPVco: from SPECIFIC Research to Successful Solar SME

BIPVco is a successful SME specialising in building-integrated photovoltaics. It was founded in 2015, underpinned by SPECIFIC’s research into functional coatings applied to steel construction materials. In this blog, we hear about their journey from research, to demonstration and beyond…

BIPVco produces unique flexible, lightweight PV products that are integrated into the building envelope. By incorporating them into steel roofing, these PV systems can form a portion – or even the whole – of the roof structure, without the need for additional strength in the roofing frame.

Demonstrating the technology at the Active Classroom

In 2016 BIPVco’s Metektron product was first trialled using a 17kWp roof installed on SPECIFIC’s pioneering Active Classroom. This not only enabled BIPVco to showcase their integrated PV product for the first time, but it led to them securing initial private sector investment of £1 million, which was followed by a further £4 million to establish their full-scale manufacturing capability.

In the Spring of 2017, after a successful twelve-month trial at the Active Classroom, BIPVco achieved another milestone by being granted internationally recognised TUV accreditation for quality and safety and the UK’s MCS certificate for quality assurance. These represent industry lifetime standards; the research and building-scale demonstration at SPECIFIC was critical to launching a credible product into the highly competitive solar marketplace.

“The support of Swansea University and the photovoltaics research was absolutely crucial in the setup phase as a spin-out company from the University and the continued support of the research team is critical in making our new Metektron product and indeed the company unique within the solar marketplace”.

Daniel Pillai, CEO of BIPVco

Scaling up – premises and projects

In 2018, BIPVco moved to larger manufacturing facilities in Newport in South Wales where the company now has a production capability equivalent to 20MW per annum and employs over 30 skilled staff. In the same year, 22kWp of curved PV was installed on SPECIFIC’s Active Office providing a total PV area of over 300m2. This showcased the architectural flexibility of the product, without any loss in performance. The Active Office received an EPC rating of A+, recognising that in an annual cycle it was predicted to be energy positive.

The BIPVco roof is the main energy source for the Active Office, providing 78% of the power use on an annual cycle (18 MWh in 2020). This represents a carbon saving of 5.5 tonnes (based on the average grid intensity for carbon of 306 g/kWh in 2020). The design of the building supports a low energy consumption of 61 kWh/m2 compared to a typical office 220 kWh/m2. The Metektron product has now been installed on approximately 200 buildings, including private and social housing, hospitals and commercial buildings internationally, where a lightweight, flexible and non-reflective PV solution is desirable.

Working alongside industry giant – Tata Steel

Tata Steel supplies the pre-painted coated steel substrate (co-developed with Swansea University) and the 30 to 40-year warranties with the BIPVco PV integration and are a key part of BIPVco’s story. Thus, the concepts and products developed by SPECIFIC and BIPVco have also influenced the construction strategy for the UKs largest steel manufacturer, to include Active Building products.

This change in strategy has enabled Tata Steel to offer and provide sustainable building solutions to meet the increasing demand on the construction industry to develop the UK’s low carbon infrastructure into the future.

“The demonstration of the first and second generation products [BIPV] on the Active Classroom and Office by the SPECIFIC team has also been extremely important in shaping our own construction strategy, with Active Buildings now being a major theme with some of our biggest clients”.

Managing Director, Tata Steel Strip Products UK, Martin Brunnock

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