Building Integrated Photovoltaic Thermal Collectors (BIPVT)

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BIPVT Collector
Category Building / Urban
Duration 2016 – 2017
Funding ETH Zurich Foundation, Energy Fund
Key Partners Flisom
A/S Team I. Hischier, J. Hofer, A. Schlueter

Integrating solar thermal collectors and photovoltaic (PV) modules into the building envelope plays a key role for the contemporary goal of constructing net-zero and plus-energy buildings. To maximize the energy harvest from the limited amount of surfaces suitable for solar application, PV-thermal (PVT) hybrid collectors have been proposed. These co-generating devices use the incident solar radiation more efficiently by cooling the solar cells with a stream of air or water which simultaneously improves the electricity yield and provides heat for domestic hot water generation and space heating. Currently, the number of commercially available PVT systems is still very limited. Existing PVT collectors are heavy, require complicated installations limiting their applicability, and are more expensive than using both a conventional PV panel and a thermal collector to achieve the same performance.

The goal of the BIPVT project is to integrate aluminum roll-bond solar collectors with Copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin-film solar cells in a novel PVT solar collector. The combination of these two emerging, high-potential technologies is expected to result in a new type of lightweight, highly efficient PVT collector with significant savings in cost and material use. Ultimately, a bendable collector design is envisioned which can be tailored to curved surfaces. The flexibility will open up new and versatile application possibilities for building integration well beyond the capabilities of today’s conventional systems.

CIGS solar cells exhibit a very high absorption for the entire solar spectrum and a relatively high temperature dependence of power production, which make them particularly promising for integration into a hybrid PV solar thermal collector system. Thin film solar cells based on CIGS reach efficiencies exceeding 20% and perform better than crystalline silicon cells in low-light and shading conditions. Moreover, the flexibility and low weight of the modules makes it particularly suited for BIPVT application. Thin-film CIGS modules can be produced at low cost and are environmentally less critical than other PV technologies as less primary energy and no cadmium is required during production.

Aluminum roll-bond solar thermal collectors achieve higher performance at lower cost compared to standard flat plate solar collectors. Roll-bond absorbers directly integrate liquid channels in the absorber plate and the fabrication process allows customizing channel design to achieve optimal heat transfer and homogeneous temperature distribution, which is important for minimization of mismatch losses in the PV modules.

Task 1 – System modeling and design

A conjugate heat transfer (CFD) simulation will be set up to analyze heat and mass transfer and to study influence of pressure drop and thermal resistance on system efficiency. Different lamination/bonding processes, material structures, channel geometries/topology and PV cell arrangements will be investigated. The results will be integrated into a system simulation to identify optimal operating conditions of the PVT collector and ensure an integrated system design.

Task 2 – Fabrication and Characterization

A lab scale PVT module will be assembled and experimentally characterized to validate the previously developed numerical model. The characterization includes measurements of the thermal and electrical performance for different module designs and operating conditions. Finally, an optimized full-scale demo system will be installed on the research and innovation unit NEST HiLO (

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