Electrochromic SageGlass at the Morgan Library Study Cube at Colorado State University.
The future looks bright for the smart glass industry. The last several years have seen U.S. manufacturers announce new facilities, partnerships, technology improvements and funding acquisitions. Recent reports forecast major growth in the sector by 2020. And, the Department of Energy is looking to smart glass products, in particular, to help the commercial construction industry achieve zero-energy goals.
While experts have described the widespread adoption of dynamic glazing as “imminent” for the last decade, their forecasts have yet to come to fruition. However, a current confluence of market forces has the segment poised for growth in an unprecedented way, industry experts say.
“The current stage of commercialization and adoption of dynamic glazing is indicating that the market has reached a critical mass,” says Helen Sanders, vice president, technical business development, SAGE Electrochromics. “Industry participants are seeing more architects specify these products in their designs ... .They are experiencing the product for themselves first-hand and understanding the comfort-enhancing benefits that it can provide. With the large investments [in] increasing production capacity, which will drive cost reductions, there is clearly momentum growing in the market.”
“Venture capital companies typically invest in technologies that represent a disruptive change to a market, and dynamic glass is one of these changes,” says Erich Klawuhn, vice president of sales for electrochromic glass manufacturer Soladigm. “The low-E glass market is currently a 15 billion-square-foot market. With a fraction of a percent of market share going to switchable glass, companies like Soladigm can be very successful. This market is tremendous in size, and the demand is national and international.”
According to Pike Research, the market for smart glass products will reach an annual level of nearly $700 million by 2020, up from a current annual level of $84 million. “Although several barriers stand in the way of the broader adoption of smart glass, the market potential is significant,” Pike Research associates say. “Substantial new production capacity that is due to come online during 2013 will reduce production costs and help drive greater product adoption.”
Research firm NanoMarkets foresees even greater growth for the electrochromic segment of the dynamic glass market. “Electrochromic glass for architectural applications is only just beginning to emerge and should be a substantial market by 2017 or so,” NanoMarket analysts predict in their “Smart Windows Market 2012” report. NanoMarkets forecasts electrochromic glass for both the architectural and transportation industries will become a $3 billion market by 2019.
Opinions differ as to how much growth thermochromic and photochromic products will experience, but analysts agree they will see substantial gains in coming years. NanoMarkets forecasts that thermochromic film in the architectural market will increase from 168,000 square meters in 2012 to 540,000 square meters in 2019. Sales revenue is forecast to grow from $16.7 million in 2012 to $27 million in 2019, according to the report.
Chris Ketchum, vice president of sales for thermochromic glass manufacturer RavenBrick, predicts more dramatic growth for the segment. “This will be a billion dollar market in five years,” he says.
Ramping up production
While dynamic glass has had a presence in the industry for more than a decade, it is only within the last several years that manufacturers have secured the funding and support necessary to launch high volume production and bring costs down. SAGE Electrochromics, for example, will bring a 324,000-square-foot manufacturing facility online in January 2013. The company was acquired by Saint-Gobain in May of this year, after the float glass manufacturer invested $80 million in SAGE in 2010.
“With the opening of our new high volume manufacturing facility, SAGE will immediately capture awaited economies of scale that will lower manufacturing costs, and we anticipate the cost of electrochromic glazing will continue to reduce as volumes increase and further efficiencies are achieved,” Sanders says.
The new manufacturing facility for Soladigm, located in Olive Branch, Miss.
Soladigm, which announced a partnership with Guardian Industries in May, is also nearing completion of its new manufacturing facility in Olive Branch, Miss. “You can’t project that you are going to have large market opportunity unless you [address] cost and [achieve] economic viability,” Klawuhn says. “If you are aiming to disrupt a significant portion of the market—like low-E glass over standard clear glass— the product has to be economically viable. That is where our aim is.”
“The [Soladigm] facility is now operational, and we will be shipping products this year,” he reports. “We have been working to transfer the technology from our California pilot line to the high volume manufacturing line in Mississippi.”
On the thermochromic side, RavenBrick secured a $5 million round of equity funding in September, enabling it to build an automated production line and begin large-scale fabrication of its patented RavenWindow product. The 40,000-square-foot automated facility will be complete in 2013, according to company representatives.
Clearing the hurdles
Despite the optimistic forecasts, smart glass manufacturers continue to face hurdles getting their products into buildings. Even with anticipated cost reductions, smart glass will remain more expensive than traditional glazing products.Manufacturers will need to sell its ability to provide return on investment and whole-building savings, experts say.
To achieve market acceptance, “we need to [continue to] drive our costs down and have an ROI that makes sense,” Ketchum says. RavenWindow is aiming for a three-year ROI, when building energy savings are taken into account.
“Right now, RavenWindow achieves about 30 percent savings in building energy costs,” he says.
Manufacturers also need to promote the effect dynamic windows can have on HVACand electronic lighting requirements. With smart glass, “buildings can have a smaller HVAC system, which allows the glass to essentially pay for itself immediately,” Ketchum says.
Dynamic glass will be critical to the windows of the future, said Stephen Selkowitz, head, Building TechnologiesDepartment, Lawrence Berkeley NationalLaboratory, during a recent meeting of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association. “The future typical window will be zero-net energy use, using technologies including dynamic solar control,” he said.
Marc LaFrance, technology development manager for the Department of Energy, agreed, telling the group: “We think the future is dynamic windows.”