Bright view on green window sales

Research report predicts pick-up in dynamic window adoption; greentech innovator announces breakthrough in solar window coating technology.

There's a new report out from Lux Research that focuses on the potential for green building technologies, not the sorts of things that manage buildings but the things that go into making buildings.

One of the trends that I've been following is the potential of "ordinary" features on houses to take on features that help optimize a building's thermal envelope and climate control. One of the most dynamic areas (pun intended) are green windows, with their potential to react to changes in brightness and (in some cases) even to generate energy. (More on that in a moment.)

The Lux Research report, "Opening the Thermal Envelope: Emerging Innovation in Dynamic Windows and Advanced Insulation," confirms my gut feeling that this market is becoming more active. Although, maybe not as much as I would have expected. To wit: Lux Research predicts that dynamic windows that can switch from a clear to a darkened visage based on sunlight conditions will be a $418 million market by 2020. Call me naive, but that doesn't seem like a big market considering the size of the construction industry.

Said Murray McCutcheon, one of the Lux Research analysts who wrote the report:

"Dynamic windows and advanced insulation have reached a level of maturity and scale that make them inviting alternatives, even for the normally conservative and price-conscious construction industry. Dynamic windows, for instance, will gain footing now through public-sector installations; this initial prove-out will create the volume to drive costs down further and fuel adoption by the commercial sector past 2016."

To be fair, Lux Research is being rather conservative in its prediction. One thing it is watching closely is the progress of Sage and Soladigm, two potential leaders in this sector that are both in the process of building out manufacturing facilities that will begin production in 2012. This should help inspire prices drop -- by 5 percent for electrochromics and 2 percent for thermochromics. However, if prices fall more quickly than that, Lux Research believes the market could grow much more quickly -- to $1.4 billion by the timeframe suggested.

A primer: Electrochromic materials change based on adjustments in light condition, while thermochromic materials change based on temperature.

While I was studying these numbers, I received an alert about a greentech development in another area: window coatings.

New Energy Technologies, which is working on something called SolarWindow, said that it has been able to generate electricity on flexible plastic by using its spray-on coating method. The company has already shown similar results on glass. In a statement, New Energy Technologies CEO John Conklin said, "Today's breakthrough supports a brand-new commercial application for our core SolarWindow technology and is the direct result of numerous patent-pending methods, materials and processes we have worked hard to invent and develop."

One of the big "a-has" for this particular test is the fact that this coating can be applied under what you and I might think of as "plug-and-play" conditions. In other words, it doesn't take enormously fancy equipment to apply the coating, which will be key for keeping manufacturing costs down.

I firmly believe that the real long-term potential for solar in particular, as well as other renewable energy technologies, lies in its ability to blend into its surroundings. Once costs come down AND some of these technologies have more curb appeal, they will be much more interesting to homeowners and commercial property managers.