I was visiting a customer yesterday discussing the upcoming revised Energy Star requirements that will go into effect sometime in mid-2023 (Energy Star 7.0). He felt confident that, utilizing triple-pane insulating glass (IG) configurations, the majority of his window designs would meet the new U-value criteria, even in the Northern climate zone.

This led to us discussing how much of a difference the new requirements could make in terms of reducing the nation’s energy usage. Then I commented, “What we really need in the future is to develop windows which can gather solar energy and run our households with the energy harvested from sunshine!”
“It’s closer than you think,” he said.

You see, in a previous position, my customer worked on a project with a company called Ubiquitous Energy. This company, based in Redwood City, Calif., has patented a new type of photovoltaic technology. They have found a way to engineer solar cells to selectively transmit visible light, while converting invisible ultraviolet and infrared light into electricity. This makes such technology the first truly transparent solar technology, allowing windows to convert ambient light into useful electricity without impacting aesthetics or performance.

This really led me to ponder, “What will the windows of the future be like? The answer lies in the answer to this question: “What else can glass do other than transmit light? A view to the outside is great, but what else can a window do for us?”

Well, there are three areas that come to mind: solar power, sound power and art display. The solar power concept has great potential if the cost of producing solar-powered windows can be brought down enough to make the payback period reasonable. I looked into the concept of putting solar panels on my roof. The payback period was something like 10 years, which I did not think made much sense. The solar harvesting window technology that Ubiquitous Energy is developing can supply up to 30% of a commercial building’s energy needs so the cost to install such technology must be low enough so that a decent payback period can be realized.

So, what about sound power? Glass transmits sound quite well. Some window manufacturers go through great lengths to minimize sound transmission in windows, especially near train stations and airports, but the fact of the matter is that windows can be great sound transmitters. In fact, at least one company is installing audio drivers into glass. This company, Waterfall Audio, is utilizing the unique sound transmission properties of glass to manufacture speaker systems which not only look unique but sound like something special.

The third area that comes to mind for the future is displaying artwork. Films are being developed that, once applied to a glass surface, can be made to be either translucent or they can become LED projectors at the flip of a switch. New products in this category, such as SmartFilm, are just getting started. Yes, your window can potentially serve two purposes. It can be a window as usual when the film is in translucent mode, or the film can perhaps be made to transmit a work of art when switched to “atomization mode.” So, in the evening, when the sun goes down, you could perhaps use your windows to turn a room into an art gallery!

These are just several areas that come to mind about how window technology could be advanced in the future. Of course, the real challenge is to make these platforms affordable so that the average homeowner may be able to enjoy them.

So how do you think window technology could be advanced in the future? Tell me your ideas about how windows can boldly go where no glass has gone before!

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