Solar products from flat photovoltaic (PV) modules to concentratedsolarpower (CSP) mirrors to the ever-and-always emerging BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaics) sector will be using glass in their bill of materials (BoM) for the foreseeable future. Flexible solar in a non-glass encapsulant might have its place in the market someday, but for now it is a tiny piece of the market.

Guardian Industries builds glass for the automotive and building industries. The firm was on the Forbes Top 100 Private Companies list recently, with $4.48 billion in 2009 revenues and 18,000 employees across the globe. I spoke with a few grizzled veterans in the building trade and heard only respectful views of the firm.

So when Guardian takes notice of a market like solar and makes a variety of glasses for a range of solar sub-sectors -- it's a good sign that solar has hit a respectable size.

Here's a rundown of some of Guardian's activity in solar:

  • BrightSource Energy's 392-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California's Mojave desert will be using mirrors from Guardian. (We've covered BrightSource at length and will report on their forthcoming April 11 IPO.) Guardian began shipping the first of 160,000 of its Solar Boost mirrors to ISEGS in November 2011. The mirrors have to withstand desert temperature swings and conditions while providing extreme reflectivity.
  • Guardian and Israel-based Pythagoras Solar are collaborating to manufacture and sell a solar PV window, meant to replace standard vision and spandrel glass or skylights. Pythagoras will provide production-ready units to Guardian, which will perform the final assembly. The startup has found a strong partner in Guardian, but the building materials and window business is a ruthless and difficult one in which to innovate (see the saga of Serious Materials). Pythagoras cites a total market for BIPV glass "estimated to reach $6.4 billion in revenues in 2016," but that number is hallucinatory in the view of this reporter.
  • Guardian also provides float glass and patterned glass in a variety of flavors for a range of PV absorber materials: low-iron float glass to maximize solar transmission, molybdenum-coated glass to optimize the conductive characteristics of PV panels using copper indium sulfide (CIS) and copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar cells, and coated glass designed to optimize the conductive characteristics of PV panels using CdTe solar cells.

 

If that wasn't enough for Guardian in trying to get in front of new industries, the firm has added electrochromic glass for dynamic window shading as part of its portfolio, partnering with Soladigm. Guardian will incorporate Soladigm’s Dynamic Glass product into its architectural glass offering: a glass that can switch from clear to tinted on demand, allowing control of heat and glare in buildings. Soladigm just raised another $4.5 million in debt. Previous investors in Soladigm include Khosla Ventures, DBL Ventures, Sigma Partners, The Westly Group, Navitas Capital, Nano Dimension, and GE Energy Financial Services. 

The electrochromic glass sector has seen some action lately -- French glass giant Saint-Gobain recently acquired Sage Electrochromics for its dynamic glass.