Looking into smart glass

Summary:In case anyone has been wondering about the anticipated viability of the in-building solar or smart building products market in the short two months since I last wrote about it, ponder the chunk of change that smart glass maker Soladigm has recently closed in Series C funding: a total of $40 million.

In case anyone has been wondering about the anticipated viability of the in-building solar or smart building products market in the short two months since I last wrote about it, ponder the chunk of change that smart glass maker Soladigm has recently closed in Series C funding: a total of $40 million.

The latest $10 million came this week from Westly Group and Navitas Capital, and it piggybacks onto a round of $30 million the company secured in December 2010 from the likes of DBL Investors, NanoDimension, General Electric (the GE investment is related to the company's ongoing ecoimagination challenge), Khosla Ventures and Sigma Partners.

Says Westly Group Managing Director Gary Dillagough, who was named to a seat on the Soladigm board:

"Dynamic glass facades and windows will revolutionize building design and have the potential to be one of the most impactful technologies for improving energy efficiency. We have been closely following this space for more than two years and have seen Soladigm emerge as the front-runner. The company has made significant technical advances and assembled a world-class team to bring high-quality, affordable Dynamic Glass to market."

Technically speaking, what Soladigm sells isn't energy-generating solar glass but it a smart technology that could dramatically improve building energy efficiency. Its Dynamic Glass technology works from changing tints from clear to darker depending on predetermined settings chosen by the facility manager. By controlling the amount of light and heat that enters a building through its windows, Soladigm believes it can help reduce HVAC energy consumption by 25 percent. There's also a story of aesthetics: they provide a more unobstructed view because they don't require window treatments.

I chatted with Soladigm CEO Rao Mulpuri and Vice President of Business Development Erich Klawuhn just a couple of days before the latest venture deal was announced. During that chat, Mulpuri said a key priority for the Milipitas, Calif.-based company in 2011 is to scale its ability to product its products in high volume with commercial availability of its technology targeted for 2012.

Of course, Soladigm isn't the only player with aspirations for smart glass. Another company to watch closely is SAGE Electrochromics, which is also eying 2012 as a break-through year for its technology. One of the things that makes SAGE worth special attention is the $80 million strategic investment it received in late 2010 by Saint-Gobain, one of the world's largest glass and construction material manufacturers. You can easily imagine the leg-up SAGE will get for its manufacturing processes through such a relationship. Plus there is the fact that the two companies have more than 200 patents, combined. The company began building a $135 million, 300,000-square-foot facility in Faribault, Minn., last last year. One major hallmark of that facility will be its ability to produce larger panes of the smart glass than currently possible, says SAGE Chief Marketing Officer Jim Wilson.

When I spoke with Wilson recently, he said smart glass will typically be integrated with smart building system that control a facility's entire climate envelope. "A building can't be a smart building unless it has a smart skin. It needs to be able to change its conditions," he said during our interview. SAGE touts savings that are similar to those claimed by Soladigm.

Another company that I intended to bone up on this year is New Energy Technologies, which is developing something called SolarWindow. The technology, which is still in the research and development phase, is aimed at generating electricity on see-through glass. The idea is that you could essentially spray solar cells onto existing glass surfaces.

In a January 2011 press release about its research activities, New Energy President and CEO John Conklin said:

"Early-on, we focused on developing electricity-generating coatings which remain transparent and can be applied onto glass surfaces as room temperature. These goals were successfully achieved by our researchers and publicly demonstrated late last year. This year, our signs are set on commercial product development targets, such as power output, efficiency, durability, reliability, cost and manufacturing."

The company is also working on some other cool technologies that have nothing to do with this particular post, which makes them doubly interesting.

Topics: CXO, Enterprise Software

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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