Life Cycle Design of Building Integrated Photovoltaics

Life Cycle Design of Building Integrated Photovoltaic Systems

Sponsored by a
National Science Foundation - Lucent Technologies Industrial Ecology Research Fellowship


The production of electricity from non-renewable fossil and nuclear fuel is not a sustainable practice, due both to adverse environmental impacts and to the finite nature of these fuels. Currently only a very small percentage of U.S. electricity is generated from renewable, potentially sustainable sources (about 0.1% from solar and wind combined in 1995). Increasing the fraction of U.S. electricity demand met from renewable sources is the motivation for this project.

Project Goal

Photovoltaic (PV) devices are one type of technology that utilizes a renewable source: they convert sunlight directly into electricity. (To find out more about how PV works, check out this NREL PV page) An elegant application of PV technology is in building-integrated designs (BIPV), in which the PV system becomes an integral part of the building envelope. BIPV systems displace conventional building materials (roofing and/or facade elements) and do not require additional land area or support structures (see some examples of BIPV systems here...). Despite the advantages of BIPV systems, their use is currently limited by decision-making based on economics that ignore social benefits and costs. The goal of this project is the development of a tool for conducting a comprehensive assessment of the energy, environmental, and economic benefits of BIPV systems relative to conventional electricity generating systems and the building materials that they displace.


Life cycle design, an element of Industrial Ecology and the basis of our work, is concerned with the systematic analysis of material and energy flows associated with a product system. CSS developed a computer software tool (Photovoltaic - Building Integrated Lifecycle Design Tool, or PV-BILD) to conduct a comprehensive BIPV assessment by incorporating the life cycle material and energy flow analysis with economic and policy factors pertaining to the BIPV product system. (A simplified schematic of the tool can be viewed here. (8k PDF file)) PV-BILD will enhance the design, planning, and policy making capabilities of those who influence the implementation of BIPV technology.

You may download a working copy of the PV-BILD software tool by right-clicking on this link BIPV v1.1 (4MB Excel file with macros). Save the file to your local drive, then open it directly rather than through the web browser. After prompting you for particular location, shingle product, inverter, installation cost, etc., it will save a Result.xls file to your default location.

More details about this project can be found in the short Project Brief. (13k PDF file)

A Project Summary of our previous life cycle design project with UniSolar is available here. (30k PDF file)

A listing of links to other interesting PV, BIPV and solar sites.

William Lord's Maine Solar House

Photos courtesy of DOE/NREL

Team Members
Gregory Keoleian U of M SNRE, Assistant Research Scientist, CSS Co-Director
Geoffrey Lewis U of M SNRE, CSS Research Associate
Daniel Mazmanian U of M SNRE, Dean and Professor
Michael Moore U of M SNRE, Associate Professor
Mojtaba Navvab U of M CAUP, Associate Professor
Michael Wagner U of M UROP student
Subhendu Guha United Solar, VP of Research and Technology
Kevin Hoffman United Solar, Senior Production Manager

For more information contact Greg Keoleian ( at (734)764-3194 or Geoff Lewis ( at (734)936-2542.

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