It wasn’t that long ago that low-E glass was considered exotic, an added expense that was at times hard to justify. But low-E glass went on to become commonplace within the glass industry, a product so usual that there’s little debate now as to whether to get it. Many experts are predicting a likewise smooth future for so-called “smart glass” as more emphasis is placed on improving energy efficiency.
Smart glass, which controls dynamic glare, light and heat based on ambient conditions or manual controls, can simultaneously satisfy the growing desire by architects for increased glazing and push toward lower energy consumption.
“Smart glass can help improve energy performance while adding to occupants’ comfort and satisfaction,” says Eric Bloom, a senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “As industrial-scale production capacity comes on-line and the costs of the materials themselves fall, smart glass prices should approach those of other types of energy-efficient glass, removing one of the primary barriers to more widespread adoption.”
Bloom predicts the volume of installed smart glass will grow from fewer than 250,000 square meters to more than 2.7 million square meters within the next ten years.
“It has the ‘cool’ factor,” he says of the wireless system that eliminates the need for blinds or shades.
A number of companies within the industry, such as Sage Electrochromics, of Faribault, Minn., and View, of Milpitas, Calif., have long believed as much as well, and have geared their business decisions accordingly. The two companies are among a growing number of firms seeing the long-term wisdom in getting in on the relative ground floor of smart glass technology.
“Hopefully, it’s going to look a lot like low-E, in terms of how it reaches people,” says Dr. Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development for Sage Electrochromics.
Says Dr. Rao Mulpuri, CEO of View, “As our project pipeline continues to grow, this investment will enable us to accelerate our growth, expand our market presence and continue to serve our broadening customer base.”
Smart glass, which is also known as switchable, dimmable or dynamic glass, varies the light transmittance and thermal properties of windows. It can be manufactured to improve insulation values, glare control or passive heating and lighting levels, although not all three simultaneously.
Bloom says that building energy performance future projections show significant gains with the use of smart glass, not to mention advances in other notable metrics such as occupant comfort, aesthetics and overall satisfaction.
“Today, it’s really difficult to get [everything] with conventional solutions,” says Sanders.
That bodes favorably in the U.S., where buildings account for roughly 40 percent of the country’s energy consumption.
Derek Malmquist, vice president of marketing for Sage Electrochromics, says he’s noticed “increasing excitement and interest” in smart glass in recent years and sees that trend only continuing.
But its current high costs assures that smart glass technology still has some time yet before it becomes a common staple in the market. Smart glass is currently at least double the price of static, high-performance window glazing, slowing its wholesale adoption by the industry, says Bloom.
He predicts, however, that the price of smart glass will fall 50 percent by 2022 as technology improves and becomes more commonplace.
“I think that, in the future, smart glass will become an important technology,” he says. “It will be a wide-spread technology for building efficiency.”