Does the title of this article conjure images in your head of expanses of black solar cells angled in rows towards the sun atop big box building roofs, or in remote locations? Over the next several years, solar power is primed to move beyond those more familiar installations and become a more prevalent part of the urban fabric in Toronto and beyond, as innovations introduce architecturally unobtrusive applications for solar power generation. The biggest advance in bringing this sustainable source of green energy into the urban fold is specialized Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) construction materials from Mitrex. Designed to invisibly incorporate photovoltaic cells into building facades, these materials have the potential to turn new and existing towers into vertical green power plants.

Applicable to anything from new builds to deep retrofits and recladding projects, Mitrex BIPV cladding and railing systems allow architects to retain full control of a building's design while meeting a growing push from developers and municipal governments to make high-rise living more sustainable. Photovoltaic materials are made to conform to any design. The colours and patterns of natural finishes, such as marble and wood, as well as man-made materials like cement and porcelain, can be faithfully replicated onto the BIPV facing. This results in a seamless integration into building façades, so that the difference between electricity-producing panels and traditional materials is imperceptible.

Examples of options for BIPV cladding, image courtesy of Mitrex


Every panel of BIPV cladding has a patterned layer made of tempered glass that covers the solar cells. It appears opaque, but this layer is engineered to allow the maximum amount of sunlight through to the solar cells without disturbing the aesthetics of the design. The patterned tempered glass and the solar cells are mounted onto an aluminum honeycomb backplate. Due to their lightweight nature, the panels can be easily and quickly installed during the construction of the building envelope. 

Regarding performance, this BIPV cladding also offers advantages over traditional materials like precast concrete and aluminum composite material (ACM), two big players in the cladding game. It features the lightweight properties of ACM cladding, while providing the durability and strength associated with precast concrete.

Diagram of BIPV cladding layers, image courtesy of Mitrex

Another BIPV product that invisibly incorporates power generation into buildings is Mitrex's SolaRail technology. Many Greater Toronto Area high-rises rely on creative balconies to define their exteriors. On buildings where balconies are prominently exposed to sunlight, SolaRail can use that sunlight to make electricity for the building. It is comprised of two panes of tempered glass that sandwich a layer of thin-film solar cells. The glass transparency, as well as the colour tint, are customizable. This customization extends to metal handrails and posts, with numerous designs to choose from.

Diagram of SolaRail balcony panel layers, image courtesy of Mitrex

While one might expect power-generating building materials to be inherently costly, these new materials can actually be cheaper than traditional options. When weighed against the cost of getting cladding and solar panels separately, BIVP's combined properties make prices comparable to traditional building envelope materials. In addition, the long-term electricity savings and green government subsidies associated with a building that generates its own power have a huge economic benefit to building owners. Not to mention the clear marketability of buildings that boast LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which BIPV can help them attain.

With no real negative impacts to up-front costs, performance, or architectural design, technologies such as Mitrex BIPV can have a major impact in the City of Toronto. This includes meeting the ambitious target set out in the TransformTO initiative to meet net-zero emissions target by 2050. Moves towards high-density and sustainable development are already being witnessed, and innovative technology is set to play a growing role in our push towards making cities greener for future generations.

Cladding application process, image courtesy of Mitrex

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