Let’s talk integrated photovoltaics

GreenBiz |  May 26, 2022  |  By: Heather Clancy

The integrated photovoltaic movement

The idea of integrating photovoltaic technology into stuff — mainly electronics and buildings — isn’t exactly new.

I’ll bet most of you probably had (or have) one of those solar-powered calculators or maybe even a computer keyboard. And the market for solar capacity built into glass and other construction materials, especially roofs, has gotten more attention this year with a high-profile installation at Google’s new campus and a new product line from GAF Energy, a division of North America’s largest roofing company. And a report published in early May projects global sales of $13 billion by 2028 for the building integrated photovoltaics market, up from $4.6 billion in 2021.

Building retrofits are a tough sell, but I’m fascinated by the role that integrated solar could play in smaller, pop-up structures. That’s a market being developed by Pvilion, an 11-year-old company in Brooklyn, New York, that has designed a line of solar-integrated tents, canopies, building facades and so on.

Pvilion concept
An example of Pvilion’s pop-up shelter designs. Photo courtesy of Pvilion

For Pvilion, the photovoltaic technology is part of a durable, waterproof, PVC-coated polyester fabric. (We didn’t discuss the chemical makeup of the material.) Co-founder and CEO Colin Touhey, an electrical engineer who started the company with an architect and structural expert, said Pvilion has experienced steady growth in supplying organizations that need mobile command centers or shelters with a power supply that could be used for Wi-Fi or charging and other specific applications. “They are designed to be temporary, but engineered to be permanent,” he told me.  

These structures could be used in places such as parks (Pvilion has a contract with New York City, and several shelters are up and charging in the New York Botanical Gardens and some public libraries) or for mobile missions (the U.S. Air Force is testing 40 of its military tent designs in a wide variety of geographies, including Alaska and New Mexico).

Like with most things, the cost of a Pvilion tent kit varies depending on the features selected and the size, ranging between $7,000 and $10,000 for the frame, solar fabric, energy storage, the ballast to keep the structure secured to the ground and lighting, according to Touhey. 

Hmm, I’m in the market for some shade in my backyard.

Seriously, though. The appeal of the technologies being developed by both Ambient and Pvilion is undeniable. I believe they represent another example of the power of distributed approaches to generating renewable energy in improving energy access and community resilience.

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