If you lived basically anywhere in the known world this summer you likely have had this thought: “Man, it is way hotter in the sun.” This summer set heat records all over the world and nothing makes you think more about thermo dynamics than a hot sunny day. In Southern California, where I am, I saw a lot of pictures of triple digit temperature on car thermometers because most people here use their garages for everything but parking.
Buildings also take the full brunt of the sun’s rage on a sunny day. In 2017 39% of the energy consumption in the U.S. went to buildings, largely to heat or cool them. Long ago we learned the importance of windows to a building’s insulation. A report from 1990 suggested that one-fourth of all the energy used for space heating and cooling was lost through windows. Since then the replacement window industry has seen steady growth.
But now technology is allowing windows to not only be great insulators, but to be a part of the building’s building management systems. New glass technology allows them to change their tint with small changes in voltage that can allow them to let in or keep out heat depending on the situation and optimize the light for occupant health and wellness.
One of the companies that is on the forefront of smart glass innovation is View. They design and manufacture dynamic glass that can change its properties to let varying amounts of light or infrared energy though. They have been tasked with retrofitting the entire Dallas/Fort Worth Airport after a pilot program showed that improvements in light conditions could event make an airport visit more enjoyable. I wanted to find out more about this new technology so I reached out to the team at view for some more details.
The first thing that they were able to tell me is that their intelligent glass can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs. They have designed them to work in conjunction with light and infrared sensors that they install on the roof of the building in order to automatically adjust as the conditions change. But they think that the human benefits of increased lighting could be even more important, especially in offices.
Deepak Shivaprasad, View’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, told me proudly that, “In a study completed by Dr. Alan Hedge at Cornell University, he found that people in buildings with View Dynamic Glass experience 51% less eye strain, 63% fewer headaches, and 56% less drowsiness. All of these improvements make occupants more productive and happy.”
One of their most high profile office clients is Overstock.com. CEO Patrick Byrne has gone on the record as praising the technology for its improvements to productivity, “View Dynamic Glass is one of the major showpieces of our new headquarters and yet another reason Overstock is the most exciting place to work in Utah. More daylight translates to more creative, innovative, and optimistic employees. Our annual payroll is $100 million. If we can do something that makes people 2% more efficient, then that is worth $2 million.”
Obviously there is wiring that needs to be installed along with the glass so I wanted to get an idea of how much more labor intensive this technology was to instal versus regular windows.
They told me that glazing costs are similar to traditional windows but we also have some low voltage electrical work. The cost for this would be negligible when compared to the energy savings, the money saved by not installing blinds, shades or external shading features, the space saved by allowing people to sit right next to a window where it is often too hot and the increased productivity and happiness of occupants. The ongoing costs of the windows are also quite low. The system operates on low voltage (similar to a building automation system) from 0-12 volts. All in all, they can power an entire building using only the energy equivalent of one 60W lightbulb.
With sunlight playing such an important part of the heating of a buildings and the well being of the humans inside it seems like a shame that we have gone all of these years without being able to use the sun’s energy to our advantage. While advances in green energy production in buildings are exciting it is important to remember that the low hanging fruit that the sun bears is the heat from its rays and the beautiful light that it casts.