NEXT Tests Energy Harvesting Solar Windows at Patagonia Headquarters

In a move to turn glass into an energy harvester, NEXT Energy Technologies (NEXT) has developed an organic thin film technology that allows daylight to pass through while converting solar energy to electricity. That technology is now on display at Patagonia’s Ventura, Calif., headquarters. The outdoor clothing retailer allowed NEXT to install 22 solar windows on its south façade. The electricity generates power charging stations so employees can charge phones and other devices.

The project, which began on Dec. 13, 2022, is part of a NEXT product demonstration that aims to provide real-time information on the company’s solar windows. Glassfab Tempering Services provided the glass.

The technology can potentially offset up to 40% of energy in a traditional commercial building, depending on where the building is, says Jeff Horowitz, NEXT’s director of business development and partnerships.

“What’s great about the technology is that we preserve the functionality and look of the window, which, by the way, happens to produce up to 40% of the energy in your building,” he says. “… In some locations, like Tucson, Ariz., we can get up to 50%. It’s got a lot of potential.”

Horowitz adds that while solar windows offer considerably more benefits than traditional windows, they still lag behind traditional solar panels’ ability to capture energy. Solar-panel windows can obtain about a quarter to a third of the energy that traditional panels do.

“There’s always going to be a trade-off with transparency and solar production,” he says. “We’re letting a lot of the visible spectrum of light pass through to be transparent, so we’re not absorbing that and turning it into electricity.”

NEXT’s coating technology is based on the organic semiconductor invented by Alan Heeger, a physicist and academic at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry. The coating absorbs unwanted spectrums of light, such as UV and infrared light, where most of the sun’s energy is.

NEXT can integrate its coating onto traditional commercial window and framing systems thanks to “organic semiconducting materials that are earth-abundant, low-cost and are coated as an ink in a high-speed and low-energy process.”

Horowitz says that while NEXT primarily focuses on producing a solar cell as efficiently as possible, it has evolved to meet the needs of the window industry.

“For them, aesthetics really drive the market,” he says. “They’re really focused on color, low haze and transparency. So, we pivoted from focusing on non-transparent photovoltaics that are lightweight and flexible to focusing on a segment of the market that can really benefit from the transparency of our photovoltaic solutions.”

Before NEXT can leap into the market, it must first learn how effective its windows are outside the lab. More than a month into the test, Horowitz says Patagonia has been happy with the results.

“It’s a great learning tool,” he says. “The longer-term goal is to deploy the technology on all [Patagonia’s] properties.”

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