What Lies Ahead for Dynamic Glazing Market?
September 6, 2011

By Sahely Mukerji

A recent Inc. magazine article on dynamic glazing and smart windows shows what many have suspected: there just aren't that many projects using the technology yet.

The article featured "four promising businesses vying for the market:" SAGE Electrochromics Inc. in Faribault, Minn.; Pleotint in West Olive, Mich.; Soladigm in Milpitas, Calif.; and Switch Materials in Vancouver, B.C. While other companies beyond the four mentioned in the article produce dynamic glass, the number of installations overall remain low in the U.S. The Inc. article states that while SAGE has done 100-plus installations, Pleotint has done 10 and the other companies reported zero installations.

While building codes are adapting to account for the use of dynamic façades, few projects at this time incorporate the tintable glass technology. Photo courtesy of Pleotint.

The current cost of this technology was cited as a reason. The price point for dynamic glazing is higher than fixed tint glazing if all you look at is the insulating glass unit as a base, says Fred Millett, director of sales and marketing at Pleotint. "We have seen pricing recently as low as $6 per square foot for some jobs. This is a tinted glass with a low-E coating and in an insulating glass unit," he says. "This is compared to a dynamic glazing cost of $30 to over $150 per square foot…"

Dynamic glazing has to be looked at in the totality of the project and the effect of the people that the building is intended to have working/living in it, Millet says.

"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," he says.

Caleb Willis, chief operating officer and vice president of business development at Switch Materials, agrees that costs may be a deterrent, but this could soon change.

"We see first-generation traditional electrochromic technology being scaled up as the first production factories are being constructed," Willis says. "This volume increase and scale cost reduction will make dynamic window accessible to a larger segment of the market."

Although production of these products is slowly increasing, some manufacturers say it will take codes to make the product pervasive.

"A building code change to require dynamic glazing would change the market overnight," Millett says.

Helen Sanders, vice president of technical business development for SAGE, agrees. "The building codes are adapting to account for the use of dynamic façades," she says. "The 2012 International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE 90.1-2010 both have language that provides interpretation for the use of dynamic glazing."

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," 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 adds. "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 recently in the solar market."

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