Electrochromic windows, also known as dynamic glass or intelligent glass, are still a boutique product for buildings.
But as the technology attracts attention from large glass manufacturers and prominent investors, it may be inching closer to wider deployment.
This morning, the California-based electrochromic glass producer View announced closure of a $100 million investment from Madrone Capital Partners, a private equity firm with ties to Wal-Mart. That brings View's total raise to $300 million since it was founded six years ago under the name Soladigm.
Electrochromic glass uses a thin film of metal oxides, which activate to tint windows when hit with a small amount of voltage. The glass remains clear or translucent on the inside and gets darker on the outside, lowering cooling loads and reducing the need for window shades. View claims its windows can cut yearly HVAC and lighting energy consumption by 20 percent.
In June 2013, View closed a $60 million round led by leading glass maker Corning, with participation from Khosla Ventures and General Electric. That followed previous rounds of $30 million, $40 million and $55 million between 2010 and 2011.
With help from a $3.4 million stimulus grant, View recently built a production facility in Mississippi capable of producing 5 million square feet of glass per year. Now the company's mission is to build out sales channels and find a home for its glass, putting that production capacity to good use. (However, as we saw with flexible-solar-cell producer Konarka -- and many other solar manufacturers -- building a large production facility and actually creating a market for the product are two very different things.)
View's funding and production put it in line with its major competitor, Minnesota-based SageGlass, which was acquired by the French building materials company Saint-Gobain in 2012. Sage currently has 4 million square feet of production capacity and a deep-pocketed parent company with strong ties to the building construction market.
View's windows have only been commercially available since 2012. Since then, the company says it has developed 50 projects in North America. But in order to make intelligent glass a more ubiquitous part of building design, View will need to continue forming relationships with builders and materials producers. Its partnership with Corning will be helpful for finding those new channels.
While both View and Sage have cumulatively brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to build up their products and factories, the smart windows market isn't a sure bet in the near term.
Cost is a major factor. Since electrochromics can cost twice as much as double-paned windows, early customers will likely make decisions based on aesthetics rather than the return on investment (ROI).
Performance is also a serious concern. Electrochromics haven't been in the market that long, so companies like View and Sage need to prove their products will hold up over ten or fifteen years. If they last that long, the ROI case will strengthen.
If intelligent glass proves itself, Navigant Research expects the market will grow tenfold between now and 2022. In the same time period, Navigant expects the cost of the technology to fall by 50 percent.