A Startup's $100M Plan To Make Dumb Windows Smart

Jan 7 2014, 5:22am CST | by

A Startup's $100M Plan To Make Dumb Windows Smart
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

A California startup that turns ordinary windows into intelligent light and heat blockers said Tuesday it’s raised $100 million to boost sales and manufacturing.

The company, called View, makes electrochromic windows, which are sometimes called “smart windows” because they can be programmed to absorb a different amount of light throughout the day in order to cool or warm up a room.

The round of funding, from Madrone Capital Partners, is a mix of equity and debt for the Milpitas-based startup, which focuses primary on the U.S. market but is expanding its effort to Europe and Asia. View has raised over $300 million since inception in 2007.

Glass doesn’t travel all that well. We’ll need to commit to building manufacturing there,” said Rao Mulpuri, CEO of View, about the company’s overseas plans. “We are reviewing those (options) at the moment.”

In the meantime, the company plans to boost production at its sole factory in Mississippi and hire people for sales, customer service and project management. Because smart windows aren’t common and are electrical equipment, View has to work hard on branding and supervising its customers’ installation work. The startup changed its name from Soladigm to View in 2012 as part of the branding effort.

The company counts the January 2012 installation at the Palo Alto office of software developer SAP as its first commercial-scale project, though it didn’t start to ship its products in a significant volume until later that year. Since then, the company has seen roughly 50 installations of its smart windows in North America, at locations that include hotels, hospitals, government buildings and colleges.

View isn’t just competing with fellow smart window makers such as Sage Electrochromics. It also tries to outshine companies that create energy-saving windows by adding a coating to block infrared and ultraviolet radiation. Compared with View’s smart windows, these coated windows usually cost 50% less to buy and install, Mulpuri said. That difference in upfront expenses could very well turn away companies that would rather spend money on building their core businesses.

But a smart window’s ability to adjust the light filtering level and the tint throughout the day leads to greater energy savings over time, Mulpuri said. The company estimates that its smart windows could cut power use for lighting, heating and cooling systems by 20% over a 12-month period. The savings could hit 25% during the time when heating and cooling equipment is cranked all the way up, such as during hot summer days. View’s customers also save money by foregoing the need to install blinds or other types of shades, he added.

Here is how a smart window works: a dual-pane electrochromic window contains two transparent conducting oxide films sandwiching an ion storage layer, an electrolyte, and an electrochromic layer. Applying a low voltage to the conductive oxide pushes the ions out of the storage layer and through the electrolyte to meet with the electrochromic layer. The meet-up prompts the electrochromic material, which contains tungsten oxide, to absorb or block light. It also causes the material to darken and give the window a tinted look. Reversing the voltage sends the ions back to its storage layer and causes the window to lighten in color and let more light in.

Tungsten oxide is commonly used for engineering smart windows, but it has some shortcomings. The material can heat up a window until it’s too hot to touch. It also doesn’t block infrared light very well, meaning it lets plenty of heat through. View has licensed research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that shows alternative materials could do better.

For now, though, View isn’t ditching tungsten oxide. It needs to boost sales and production to drive down the price of its current technology.

“Right now our primary goal is to make lots and lots of it and get more of it out into the field,” Mulpuri said.

Source: Forbes Business


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