Incorporating photovoltaic (PV) material into buildings has been an aspiration of ecologists and architects since the development of the first solar PV modules. In Spain, photovoltaic glass modules have been used for a while in skylights and glass ceilings, providing electricity and shade at the same time.
Such multi-purpose building materials form part of a new industrial product family known by the catchy initials BIPV – or business-integrated photovoltaics.
These have enjoyed something of a boost this week with UK firms WElink and Your Housing Group announcing a joint venture whereby the photovoltaics experience of the former will be combined with the housebuilding expertise of the latter, to produce solar-powered homes.
The two companies will draw on WElink’s existing partnerships, with China National Building Material (CNBM) and Barcelona Housing Systems of Spain, to develop low carbon, modular housing, suitable for high-volume roll-out within the next five years. There is optimistic talk of 25,000 of these homes being built by 2022, representing one tenth of the estimated current annual requirement.
The deal has been greeted with particular enthusiasm by the UK Government since it trails in its wake some highly visible inward investment and job creation by the Chinese company. CNBM thinks that it will need six factories and 1,000 workers to produce elements to be used in the housebuilding and Greg Hands, the trade minister has lost no opportunity for protagonism by claiming to have helped broker the deal. Even Mark Easton of the BBC described the Chinese investment as a ‘big story’ in a tweet.
So far so satisfactory. As previously reported by Rockfire, modular housing is being mooted by many as one of the quickest ways of addressing the UK’s housing shortage. To reduce the carbon footprint of that housing and set it on course for self-sufficient sustainability is an additional plus. WElink and its partners are definitely on to something