Volume 16, Issue 4 - July/August 2012
In a society focused on saving energy the emergence of solar film was arguably inevitable. Since its creation the product has changed and evolved into what it is today—one that has been recently included in the California Building Code (see page 14 for more on this story). Solar film has changed over the years though, as customer’s needs have evolved, but the product is far from mature. There is still room to grow.
Evolution of Solar Film
“I feel the industry has had several stages or benchmarks regarding technology. An initial development was the vacuum metalizing of thin films which we largely take for granted today as ‘older’ technology. However, they were a tremendous benefit to window film customers at that point and continue to be, in large part, the workhorse of our industry,” says Mark Carlson, business development manager for HanitaTek. “After these, came sputtered metalizing, which allowed for the creation of technologies previously outside the reach of window film scientists and engineers. Some of what might be called ‘new films’ involve exterior weather-ability and high-performance low-e films.” Much of the change within solar film development has come from the desire of manufacturers to understand what customers are really looking for. “While there is certainly an evolution of the technology to construct newer, higher performing products, I think manufacturers are working harder today to supplement simplified ‘product features’ and do the hard work to better understand which ‘features’ are ‘advantages’ and which of these are eventually ‘benefits’ to the customer,” says Carlson.
“The biggest change has been the advancement of energy benefits and high visible light transmitting films without the use of metals,” says Ed Golda, owner of Michigan Glass Coatings in Rochester Hills, Mich.
The aesthetics of early solar film also left much to be desired among consumers.
“Early solar films were effective at reducing radiant energy and lowering energy costs for air conditioning, but they were highly reflective and their “tin foil” look was not aesthetically pleasing to many customers. The variety of films was very limited and bronze, silver and grey films were the norm for quite some time,” says Nick Routh from Solar Gard’s technical services. “Today, the new films keep out a considerable amount of heat while maintaining the appearance that the customer demands. Technology has allowed the industry to significantly increase the number of benefits window film offers the end user. With the latest spectrally-selective films we can now provide architectural customers high solar control performance with increased energy efficiency not only through heat rejection but also daylighting.”
For some within the industry, the biggest developments in solar film have centered around the ability to measure the benefits of the product.
“The greatest innovation, in my opinion, is not the film itself, but our ability to more accurately estimate the energy savings and return on investment due to energy savings,” says Carlson. “In today’s economic and energy climate, the customers are not as quick to say ‘give me the best solar heat gain coefficient,’ as they are to say, ‘give me the best net present value (NPV).” Of course, the NPV is more a function of the relationship between cost and savings than simply the savings.”
“I would say that only 20 percent of the population knows of the product and understand its benefits,” says Golda.
“In the architectural market, there is approximately 42 billion square feet of architectural glass in the world today,” says Kathryn Giblin, director of global marketing and technical services at Solar Gard. “According to our estimates, the window film industry has penetrated less than one-percent of that market. The window film industry has a great opportunity to help buildings worldwide reach energy reduction and sustainability goals, and based on the statistics we’ve only just begun.” For the part of the population that is aware of solar film as a product, many have misconceptions about the properties of the product itself.
“We may not agree on everything, but we all agree on this—the solar film market has very little penetration and suffers both because people haven’t heard about solar film and what they have heard has been drowned out by the purple, bubbly, automotive tint they see on their neighbor’s car,” says Carlson. “As we all educate our customers every day, we will overcome their misconceptions and prejudices about our industry and our market penetration will increase.”
When the public is made aware of solar film, window film companies have the ability to show tangible evidence of the energy benefits using a variety of electronic technology that is now available for demonstrations.
“In my opinion the only way to sell big solar film jobs is by showing a tangible benefit to the customer—financial savings through reduced energy consumption and demand charges,” says Carlson. “Homeowners and smaller restaurant/retailers will continue to buy based on a ‘softer’ sell including comfort, UV protection and brand marketing, but commercial customers want to see the same level of engineering alongside a window film quote as they are used to seeing alongside an HVAC upgrade quote.”
“The use of equipment to measure the performance of film to verify to our customers the benefits and differences between the films is one of the best ways to sell film,” says Golda.
Besides the use of technology, there are various sources available to help educate consumers and solar film is being recognized more as a solution for energy savings.
Whether the need is energy reduction, increasing comfort for building occupants or safety concerns, there is solid data and research that proves window film is a cost-effective solution to address these issues,” says Giblin. “Backed by research from the Department of Energy, ConSol, the National Fenestration Rating Council and, most recently, the inclusion of window film in the California building codes, window film is a clear and effective choice for retrofitting existing structures.” “The use of technology and advancement in window film materials has opened up the market and raised awareness for solar film,” says Tom Niziolek, architectural sales and development manager for Madico Window Films. “The industry has done a good job of not overselling technology and focusing on the benefits of window films.”
Into the Future
“[In the future] I see film being a collector of energy versus just being a reflector of energy,” says Golda.
“I think we will eventually have a photovoltaic film—however, it will have to be weatherable and nearly as clear as glass— therefore we have a long way to go. I also think exterior solar films will grow to become 15 to 20 percent of the market by the year 2017 and that dealers who do the hard work of learning the installation and job-costing of multi-story exterior applications will be glad they did,” says Carlson.
“We will continue to see technology evolve and materials advance—unique materials that balance the needs for high light transmission, strong heat rejection and turning that into real energy savings,” says Niziolek. “This will mean that window films will get better and more efficient. This is evident for products and materials that can bridge the gap between summer cooling savings and winter heating savings providing effective ROI when installing films.”