Summary:

Do makers of low-cost, energy saving windows with high-tech smarts have well, a window of opportunity? A growing number of startups and investors seem to think so. Switch Materials, a developer of energy saving windows based in Burnaby, British Columbia, has just raised $7.5 million in second-round […]

Do makers of low-cost, energy saving windows with high-tech smarts have well, a window of opportunity? A growing number of startups and investors seem to think so. Switch Materials, a developer of energy saving windows based in Burnaby, British Columbia, has just raised $7.5 million in second-round financing. Led by BDC Venture Capital, the round comes as the latest influx of cash for “smart” windows — tech that allows dynamic control of how much light and heat passes through in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

Smart windows are based on a simple idea: decrease the amount of heat taken up from the sun, and you can rely less on energy intensive air conditioning. But it’s executed with sophisticated technology. Switch, which plans to use its new funding for research, development and product commercialization, says it’s developing new materials based on “organic molecules that ’switch’ optical properties on command.”

Put simply, Switch says its windows “darken when exposed to the sun and rapidly bleach on command when stimulated by electricity” (a combination of  “photochromism” and “electrochromism,” while it claims competitors rely on only one or the other).

Windows often account for a tremendous amount of heat loss or gain, forcing heaters or air conditioners to work harder and consume more energy depending on the time of year. And if dynamic controls get paired with high insulation, windows could also help minimize heat loss during cold days.

It’s fertile ground for the green building industry, and according to a recent report from venture capital firm Nth Power and the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, companies that develop better predictive and adaptive algorithms, faster response times and interconnectivity with a building’s automated systems will have an advantage in this space.

Companies working on smart window tech include Soladigm, a tight-lipped startup in Milpitas, Calif., as well as Sage Electrochromics and EControl-Glas, which already sells smart window systems.

A big hurdle to growing the market for this technology comes down to cost. That’s part of why the Department of Energy awarded a $4.9 million grant a few months ago to ITN Energy, for R&D focused on reducing the cost of manufacturing electrochromic films by using “roll-to-roll production.”

Switch sees this challenge as an opportunity: developing more affordable option (for both buildings and automotive applications) holds the key to a large chunk of the market. BDC Venture Capital Director Geoff Catherwood predicted in the company’s announcement that Switch will be able to “gain a leadership position in a large untapped market” by producing smart windows at a lower price point.

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