In a first step toward developing a more energy independent operation, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has installed an array of building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) roofing panels to produce clean energy. The 20-kW array is now supplying a portion of the power needed at one of the airport's support buildings.

The system, designed and installed by Renewable Energy Resources (RER) of Occidental, Calif., uses Uni-Solar PV laminates, which are manufactured by Bekaert ECD Solar Systems, a joint venture between N.V. Bekaert S.A. and United Solar Systems Corp.

The “peel and stick” Uni-Solar PV laminates were bonded to metal roofing pans and installed in modular units. “What the customer loves about this type of installation is they get maintenance-free clean energy integrated into a beautiful new roof,” said Tibor Fischl, president and CEO of RER, a Sonoma County-based business. “Our extensive research into existing solar technology led us to rely on Uni-Solar products as the backbone of our design.”

The SFO system is grid-connected, which means that when the PV array generates power, the utility meter runs backward. A utility inverter was installed that changes the direct current (DC), generated by the array, to the alternating current (AC) used at the airport. RER commissioned its engineering partners at ISE Research of San Diego, Calif., to design the software and monitoring systems. These systems display the daily energy output, emissions offset and total dollars saved by the energy system on a large LCD screen for the SFO engineering staff.

The Uni-Solar PV laminates can produce electricity in sunlight and on cloudy days using a unique flexible, non-reflective and durable thin-film amorphous silicon technology that is manufactured and installed as a building-integrated roofing material.

“It is lightweight and has the ability to produce electricity even in the often foggy climate around the airport,” Fischl said. “We found that this system is the most shade-tolerant product on the market. Combined with its other features, this installation shows that we don't need more land to satisfy our energy needs. We can simply use our roofs as power generators.”

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