Smart Cities

Investment in Smart Glass Startups Accelerates Building Integrated Photovoltaic Tech

This article was written by Daphne Tomlinson, Senior Research Associate at Memoori.

Smart Glass can be capable of electronic shading (in place of blinds or a sunroof) to create peak electricity demand savings of up to 30% as a result of blocking entering heat. It can also be a transparent photovoltaic glass for generating electricity locally in a building and is considered as one example of Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) technology.

Smart Glass has been used sporadically for the past 30 years and has yet to make a significant impact on improving energy efficiency globally. The lack of mainstream adoption to date is attributed to several factors, namely the high price, lack of aesthetic appeal, and unwillingness to invest in new technologies. 

In 2021, we have seen a number of smart glass startups achieve the next level of Series funding. Combined with announcements of strategic partnerships with key stakeholders in construction, real estate, and the glass sectors over recent years. These are positive signals that the technology is gaining greater acceptance in the smart buildings space. 

Physee, a Dutch startup founded in 2014, claims to be the first company in the world to succeed in developing facades that provide both energy and data, optimizing the energy efficiency of buildings. Their primary technology called SmartSkin, developed to lower energy consumption and generate electricity, is implemented in glass windows, which are enhanced with solar cells and a range of sensors. Solar cells harness electricity from the sun while sensors gather information about light intensity, temperature, pressure, and air quality. Physee’s proprietary light-converting POWER+ coatings enable windows to generate power, making buildings energy neutral.

In January 2021, Physee closed the first half of its Series A investment after raising EUR 4M. followed by the conclusion of its investment round in May 2021 with another EUR 4M from new investors Phase2.Earth and Adunare.  Edge, the Dutch real estate developer of healthy and sustainable buildings also participated in the funding. 

An Australian public company, ClearVue Technologies (ASX: CPV) also operates in the Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) sector developing glass windows and building surfaces to produce renewable energy. In May 2021, the firm announced a joint venture with Dutch company, eLstar Dynamics that aims to create self-powered autonomous windows capable of integrated energy production and lighting control.  ClearVue is working with eLstar Dynamics in what both companies believe will create “a game-changing solution” and new product category – windows and glazing that both generate power and then uses part of that power to operate eLstar’s autonomously tintable glazing layer to control light levels into a building – all at the same time removing the need for curtains, blinds, and other window treatments.

The retrofit market has been pivotal in ClearVue’s marketing efforts targeting major global cities such as New York and Chicago where heritage restrictions often prevent significant changes to the exterior of buildings. The company believes the combined products from the eLstar joint venture will suit the restoration market, enabling refitting of existing windows without a need for expensive and complex wiring.

NEXT Energy Technologies is a Santa Barbara, California company developing transparent energy harvesting window technology that allows architects and building owners to transform windows and glass facades into producers of low-cost, on-site, renewable energy for buildings. In June 2021, the firm raised $13.4 million in a Series C round of funding backed by strategic investors, including Alon Blue Square Israel, Ltd., GEAR Innovation Network and Viracon, a leading architectural glass fabricator and subsidiary of Apogee Enterprises, a provider of architectural glass, aluminum framing systems, and installation services for commercial buildings around the world.

Ubiquitous Energy is another Californian developer of transparent smart window technology which harvests solar energy and serves as an invisible, onboard source of electricity. Its UE Power coating technology can be applied to the surface of window glass to provide electricity generation and energy efficiency while remaining visibly indistinguishable from the fully transparent standard windows on the market today. Originally spun out of MIT in 2011, Ubiquitous Energy is now producing its transparent solar cells and windows in its production facility in Silicon Valley.

In March 2021, Ubiquitous Energy secured a strategic equity investment of $8M from ENEOS Holdings, an energy resource and materials company in Asia. The investment represents an initial close of Ubiquitous Energy’s Series B financing round and will help support the company’s go-to-market strategy and production efforts, helping to bring its UE Power window products to market in the US and internationally.

GTM Media recently reported that BIPV applications that are entirely integrated into a building’s design will likely take more than a decade to achieve full industry buy-in. But shorter-term opportunities for PV windows and vertical façade applications are on the horizon and these four companies may well be the frontrunners in providing such solutions.

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