Volume 46, Issue 10 - November 2011


From Darkness Comes Light
What Lies Ahead for the Dynamic Glazing Market?
by Sahely Mukerji

If the recent mergers and joint endeavors are any indication, the dynamic glazing market promises to be one of the greatest glass industry growth areas. While Saint-Gobain of France acquired 50 percent equity stake in Sage Electrochromic in Faribault, Minn., in November 2010, PPG Industries in Pittsburgh formed a marketing alliance with Pleotint in West Olive, Mich., in September 2011.

Even though the playing field is expanding, there still aren’t many projects using the technology just yet. A May Inc. magazine article on dynamic glazing and smart windows featured “four promising businesses vying for the market”—Sage Electrochromics; Pleotint; Soladigm in Milpitas, Calif.; and Switch Materials in Vancouver, B.C.—and stated that other than Sage (which has done 100-plus installations) and Pleotint (which has done 10), the other companies reported zero installations.

While other companies produce dynamic glass beyond the four in the article—such as E-Control in Germany or Research Frontiers in Woodbury, N.Y., for example—there are reasons the number of installations remains low in North America.

Here’s Why
The greatest single roadblock to widespread use of dynamic glazing is lack of awareness of new technologies, says Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development for Sage Electrochromics. “While we do not have an industry awareness study to provide a stat, we believe that awareness of dynamic glass, such as electrochromic or thermochromic glass, would still be quite low,” she says.

Currently, there is still a gap between awareness and adoption, Sanders says. “We are still in the ‘early adopter’ state where people like to see products successfully used by others to enhance their comfort level with how it works and the reliability,” she says. “The more installations and people using the product technology, the more new adopters there will be, until the momentum is such that the product reaches mainstream. We need to help move potential clients along the ‘AIDA’ spectrum of awareness, interest, desire and action.”

Types of Dynamic Glazing
There are several different dynamic glazing technologies in various stages of development and commercialization, all of which manage visible light and heat gain and contribute to the energy efficiency of buildings, although to differing degrees. There are, however, important differences in their efficacy and in how they are applied. The dynamic glass technologies fall into two primary camps: controllable versus non-controllable, or “active” versus “passive.” Electrochromic glass is an example of a controllable, or active, dynamic glazing, since it can be tinted or cleared by the user (or building system) by applying an electrical voltage. Thermochromic and photochromic products are examples of non-controllable, or passive, dynamic glass, because they change their visible light transmission in response to changing temperature of the glass, which is a result of the exterior conditions of sunlight exposure, ambient temperature and wind velocity, etc. While the glass does respond to the exterior conditions, the user does not have the flexibility to control when and by how much the glass tints.

In the long term there will be a number of different dynamic glazing technologies on the market that will be used in different applications and will have different price points, predicts Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development at Sage Electrochromic in Faribault, Minn. “Successful products will be able to demonstrate durability appropriate for an exterior glazing product (meet ASTM E2141 for active glazings, or an equivalent test for passive dynamic glazings), provide acceptable heat and light control performance, meet aesthetic requirements, be compatible with current industry fenestration systems and be cost-effective, relative to the performance and benefits it provides, to alternative conventional solutions.”

Another reason for the scarce use of dynamic glazing is its inability to meet certain industry specs, says Erich Klawuhn, vice president of business development at Soladigm. “The building industry has heard about dynamic glazing for some time,” he says. “However, up until this point, key requirements such as glass size, quality, durability and cost have not been met.”

The other big roadblock is the price of dynamic glazing, says Fred Millett, director of sales and marketing at Pleotint. “The price point is higher than fixed-tint glazing if all you look at is the insulating glass unit as a base,” he says. “We have seen pricing recently as low as $6 per square foot for some jobs; that is a tinted glass with a low-E coating and in an insulating glass unit. This is compared to a dynamic glazing cost of $30 to more than $150 per square foot, depending on the technology, size and a bunch of other factors.”

Glenn Miner, director of construction and marketing for the flat glass business of PPG, agrees. “The cost has been a detriment for widespread use of dynamic windows,” he says. That’s a factor PPG aims to address with its new commercial window glass system, which combines sunlight responsive thermochromic technology from Pleotint and Solarban low-E glass by PPG. “[It] mitigates a lot of that extreme cost pressure, and makes dynamic glazing a viable alternative for building envelopes and not just a niche product,” Miner says. “This [product] will be more than static glazing; it offers a set of values, such as sound attenuation and security. It will penetrate the market better than any of the other dynamic technologies.”

A Holistic Approach
For it to sell, dynamic glazing has to be evaluated within the totality of the project. “For commercial buildings, the savings that can be achieved by lowering the air-conditioning tonnage requirements, smaller size air handling/mechanical equipment, possibly eliminating internal or external shading strategies, all help offset the cost,” Millett says. “Productivity gains attributed to more comfortable working spaces, while maintaining a view will offset many times any extra cost for dynamic glazing.” However, he notes that there are not yet computer programs that can prove this today.

Offsetting the cost alone will not help with dynamic glazing market penetration, says Caleb Willis, chief operating officer and vice president of business development at Switch Materials. “We see first-generation traditional electrochromic technology being scaled up as the first production factories are being constructed,” he says. “This volume increase and scale cost reduction will make dynamic window accessible to a larger segment of the market. Even with this scale, however, the technology will remain at a significant premium to passive glazing solutions limiting its penetration.”

Miner has a different take. “We’ve looked at where the future of the industry is in the next five to 10 years, and there has to be a step change,” he says. “Static design will end in the foreseeable future. For net-zero buildings [which require reduced energy to operate and do not emit greenhouse gasses; see March 2008 USGlass, page 46], we have to look at building integrated photovoltaics and dynamic windows.”

In an effort to boost the use of dynamic glazing, the Department of Energy (DOE) is sponsoring a study of a side-by-side comparison of Pleotint’s technology versus a typical fixed-tint with low-E, Millett says. ”We monitor all of the energy into two sets of rooms, one glazed with a fixed-tint low-E and the other with the Pleotint variable tint dynamic glazing technology,” he says. “The study is being conducted over the course of a year.”

While that data is being accumulated, educational efforts direct toward code-making groups are beginning.

Recently, the codes have recognized dynamic glass, Klawuhn says. “When using the ‘prescriptive’ path, the code [including the International Energy Conservation Code, ASHRAE, International Residential Code, International Green Construction Code and California’s Title 24] guides builders to employ certain minimum standards,” he says. “When building along a ‘performance’ path the codes permit configurations that go beyond the essential and look to the entirety of the building’s performance for energy consumption or conservation. Dynamic glass can be easily incorporated using the ‘performance’ path. The National Fenestration Rating Council has developed a rating system for glass which includes dynamic glass and can be helpful in drafting specifications.”

The federal government is helping in its own way, Sanders agrees. An underlying driver for improved energy efficiency in the building energy codes is the government’s zeal to achieve net-zero or low energy buildings by 2030, she says. “The goal for the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2012 and ASHRAE 189.1 was a 30-percent reduction over the previous versions, and the next revisions are aiming at a further 50-percent improvement,” she says. “For the building envelope, the DOE has identified three different technologies which feature on their zero energy building road map: highly insulating fenestration, variable solar control and integrated façades with dimmable lighting controls to harvest natural daylight. With the drive to reducing energy consumption and the DOE’s roadmap, it is likely that the codes will have a significant influence on the market adoption of dynamic glazing, just like it has on low-E glazing.”

The trend to reduce energy usage in buildings has become a significant issue in the latest code cycle with the goal to reduce the energy efficiency of the code by 30 percent, Sanders says.

The fenestration industry has been fighting to stop the reduction in window-to-wall ratio, which has been targeted by others—such as the ASHRAE 90.1 envelope subcommittee—as a means to reduce energy consumption. “The beauty of dynamic glass and dynamic façade systems in general is that you can maintain a higher percentage of glazing, while actually improving energy efficiency,” she says. “This is a win-win from both an energy and occupant experience standpoint, and when you use dynamic glass you also preserve an unobstructed view to the outside, which was the reason you installed the window in the first place.”
Building codes are already adapting to the use of dynamic façades, Sanders says.

“The 2012 IECC and ASHRAE 90.1-2010 both have language that provides interpretation for the use of dynamic glazing. This allows the code official to understand how a product with a range of performance relates to a single value code requirement,” she says. “This has removed a potential barrier to adoption and provides validation that the product technologies are available and are being used.”

In addition, the “green” or “stretch” codes are recognizing the importance of both energy efficiency and access to natural daylight and views to the outside, Sanders says. “In the case of ASHRAE 189.1 there is also recognition of the need to provide glare control for fenestration as well as additional heat gain control,” she says. “This manifests itself as the requirement for the use of horizontal projections (shading) over windows. There is currently an addendum out for public review that would adapt that requirement to allow the use of dynamic shading or dynamic glazing instead of the fixed horizontal projection in recognition of the fact that dynamic solar control provides better performance than a static horizontal shade.”

Recent Signs of Green Practices
From a broader industry trend standpoint, recent reports indicate that the construction industry is focusing on green building practices, which bodes well for dynamic glass. A recent research report by a third party, LUX Research, Opening the Thermal Envelope: Emerging Innovation in Dynamic Windows and Advanced Insulation, predicts that the global market for dynamic windows most likely will exceed $400 million by 2020. The report’s most optimistic scenario pegs the 2020 market at more than $1.5 billion.

To boost use for now, the government could install dynamic windows on its own new construction and retrofit its existing buildings, Millett suggests. “This would be a major factor in accelerating the growth of the industry as the government is the largest building owner in the United States,” he says.

Government support of developmental work for key technologies such as solar or dynamic materials is important as these are critical and high-risk technologies with rather long development cycles, Willis says. “Government support or subsidies of early manufacturing, however, is less effective,” he says. “Although well intentioned, subsidies can give capital markets a more favorable impression of projects, which may involve scaling a technology too early or with too high a cost base. This can expose taxpayers to excessive risk as we’ve recently seen in the solar market.”

Sanders expresses a similar opinion: Unlike the photovoltaic industry, the dynamic glazing market should grow based on market demand and not be dependent on government subsidies to succeed, she says. “The predicted growth of market adoption of dynamic glass will likely be like low-E glass where, as demand grew, economies of scale were realized. This brought down manufacturing costs and therefore reduced prices, stimulating further market adoption,” she says. “Government incentive, tax-credit and rebate programs may be helpful in accelerating early product adoption rates, so that manufacturing economies of scale and cost reductions, and thus broader market penetration, can be achieved more quickly.

“These types of incentives may be offered in the future to reward conservation and energy efficiency in the nearly $100 billion global glazing market,” Sanders says. “We would expect tightening energy codes to increase the demand for such products, and since dynamic glass solutions are already cost-competitive with the conventional mechanical dynamic façade solutions, subsidies should not be required.”

Sahely Mukerji is the news editor for USGlass and its daily e-news service USGNN.com™. She can be reached at smukerji@glass.com or follow her on Twitter @solarglazingmag.

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