Substantial Growth Anticipated for Smart Windows Market

19 Sep 2011 • by Natalie Aster

Demand for smart windows, or windows with functional capabilities such as self-cleaning and variable tinting in response to electrical or thermal changes, will be driven by the green building movement, attraction to the convenience they provide and the potential for cost savings. NanoMarkets, a leading provider of market research and analysis of the opportunities in advanced materials and emerging energy and electronics markets, believes that the market for smart windows will grow substantially over the next eight years, becoming a billion-dollar market by 2015 and then more than doubling by 2018.

The report “Next-Generation Smart Windows: Materials and Markets: 2011” by NanoMarkets explains where these opportunities are to be found and how they are best exploited. It builds on NanoMarkets long experience with materials used for smart building products such as lighting and building-integrated solar panels. In addition to the analysis of the market opportunities, the report also includes an eight-year forecast of the market for smart windows, by application area and by the type of “smart” functionality of the windows. The report is essential reading for firms that produce or develop smart coatings of all types and for window suppliers seeking to add value to—and make more money from—their products by giving them new functionalities.


Total Market for Smart Windows

Report Details:

Next-Generation Smart Windows: Materials and Markets: 2011

Published: March 2011
Price: US$ 2,495.00

Report Sample Abstract

Real Smart Technologies

Today there are three established smart window technologies in the marketplace: thermochromic, electrochromic and self-cleaning.

Thermochromic windows reduce the amount of heat that enters through the glass and thus contribute to real energy savings in warm weather. Traditionally based on “cloud gel” technology, thermochromic windows have a thin plastic film inserted into the assembly that becomes opaque (self-tints) when a specific temperature is reached, blocking light (and heat) from passing through the glass. While this temperature can be controlled through the choice of polymer in the film, it cannot be changed once installed in the window. Due to the visibility issue and the lack of on-demand variation, thermochromic windows have largely been restricted to architectural applications such as skylights and tall office buildings. Companies offering such products include Pleotint, Landec Intelligent Materials, and RavenBrick.

Thermochromic windows offer a less costly—but also less controllable—alternative to electrochromic windows in applications where visibility is not critical. Like electrochromic windows, these windows can limit the heat that enters a building from the outside, but they automatically tint at a fixed temperature rather than allowing on-demand control. They are a good match for the sun-facing sides of buildings, where they reduce absorbed heat in the summer and on hot days. In transportation markets, they are most useful where visibility is not critical—sunroofs in automobiles and passenger compartments in other types of vehicles.

Electrochromic windows contain glass that is "switchable" or "dimmable" through the use of electricity. Liquid crystal suspended particle devices c (SPDs) contain molecular particles suspended in a solution between plates of glass. In their natural state, the particles move randomly and collide, blocking the direct passage of light. When in contact with an electrical current, the particles align rapidly and the glazing becomes transparent. This type of switchable glazing can block up to about 90 percent of light. Smart windows based on polymer-dispersed liquid crystals (PDLCs) are translucent in the tinted state and scatter light more than they block it, providing privacy while blocking a portion of the heat. GlasNovations is one company involved in this area. Other electrochromic technologies offered by SAGE Electrochromics and EControl Glas become more opaque than PDLCs, allowing just 2-3% light transmissions and thus have greater potential for energy savings, but are more expensive.

Because electrochromic windows can be tinted on demand, they are generally considered to be higher in value than thermochromic windows. They find use in numerous exterior and interior architectural, automotive, and other transportation (airplanes trains, ships) applications.

In dollar terms, the biggest opportunities for smart coating firms are in supplying electrochromic coating materials to the smart window manufacturers. Electrochromic windows alone will grow to well over a billion dollar market by 2018, and a significant portion of the cost of those windows will be the electrochromic coatings. Technical opportunities include developing electrochromic coatings that are less costly and that provide a broader dimmable range, which would drive faster adoption—and increased sales of the materials. Electrochromic windows will produce the most revenue over the next eight years. This is also the only smart window type that will find significant markets in each of the application areas we have forecasted.

Self-cleaning windows have either a hydrophobic (water repelling) or a hydrophilic (easily wettable) coating that helps water (from rain or manual spraying) clean off dirt or avoid depositing dirt in the first place. Super-hydrophobic coatings mimic the behavior of the lotus leaf by creating a patterned surface that causes water to bead and minimize contact, thereby avoiding dirt deposition. Super-hydrophilic coatings cause water to sheet and carry away dirt and debris. Some hydrophilic self-cleaning windows also contain titanium dioxide (TiO2), which acts as a photocatlyst when exposed to UV light and breaks down organic dirt that can then be more easily washed away.

Because self-cleaning windows generally require water—and typically rainwater—to work, the market for this type of smart window is very much dominated by exterior architectural applications, but interest in niche interior uses (shower doors and enclosures, clothes washers and dish washers) is growing, as is the use in vehicles. Self-cleaning windows provide substantial value to each of the application areas covered—except perhaps interior architectural windows—through better glass clarity and reduced maintenance effort and cost.

The opportunities are greatest for self-cleaning windows in the largest markets with weather-exposed windows, building exteriors and automotive windows. Technical opportunities exist for self-cleaning smart coatings that provide products with superior functionality, such as those that break down dirt—and perhaps non-organic kinds of dirt—more efficiently, especially if it can be done without direct sunlight.

Possibly Smarter Technologies?

Several other potential smart window applications are currently under development with varying ranges of time to market. Glass repair is already quite common using special adhesives; it seems reasonable that such adhesives could be embedded appropriately within the glass to provide self-repair functionality. This type of microencapsulation technology, in which microcapsules of a repairing agent are embedded in the glass, is not anticipated to reach the market for several years.

Significant opportunities for using self-cleaning and self-tinting glass with photovoltaic panels of various sorts, including BIPV glass windows, is more likely in the near term. Self-cleaning PV panels have obvious benefits: reduced dirt buildup allows more sunlight to be converted to electricity and less labor is required to keep the panels clean. "Smart" PV panels could also be "dimmed" by shading via an electrochromic or thermochromic coating on the panel.

On the negative side, however, the necessary coatings often absorb significant amounts of light themselves. The key for the self-cleaning market is to either use more transparent self-cleaning coatings for PV panels, or to use PV modules that make little use of the wavelengths that are absorbed by the self-cleaning coatings.

For self-tinting panels, the coating could be placed on the backside of a semitransparent module with little effect on the PV conversion. Such smart panels represent an important BIPV opportunity in which natural daylight can provide lighting into a building behind the BIPV panel, but could also be shaded to block the daylight, much as electrochromic windows operate. Peer+ is developing such a product.

Another possible new application is presented by OLED lighting. OLED lighting promises to be made transparent or semitransparent, and hence could be combined with an electrochromic coating similarly to the BIPV glass panel discussed above. Such a panel would allow lighting with natural daylight when not tinted, but could also be tinted for privacy or at night. The device would also provide artificial light when needed through the OLED lighting panel.

And with such similar opportunities for PV panels and OLED panels using electrochromic coatings, it also seems reasonable that both could be combined in a single device. Such a device could bring together three distinct "green" technologies: PV power, the use of daylight for interior illumination, and energy-efficient OLED lighting, and this type of products seems likely to have appeal in some circles.

More information can be found in the report “Next-Generation Smart Windows: Materials and Markets: 2011” by NanoMarkets.

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