Material Sustainability

Sustainability, material, materials, View Dynamic Glass, Managed Green, Acuity, LED lights, Madrone Capital, Menlo Park, San Francisco, Milpitas, Oakland
W Hotel San Francisco
W Hotel in San Francisco featuring View’s windows

Advances in building skin and lighting materials are poised to transform the industry.


By Joe Gose

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]fforts to create sustainable commercial buildings by boosting energy efficiency for the past few years have included a range of options, from incorporating materials such as eco-friendly cellulose insulation to installing remote energy management systems.

But advances in two other everyday components—a building’s skin and lighting—are beginning to get notice and promise to further drive the greening of commercial properties, as well.

Milpitas-based View, for example, has created dynamic glass windows that provide four tints of transition for continuous views without heat or glare. While dynamic glass is nothing new, the 7-year-old company introduced five technological innovations to the windows to enhance their effectiveness, including allowing users to control tinting remotely with smart devices and adding intelligence that anticipates the sun’s angle year-round.

[pullquote_right]“The market potential for this system is enormous.” Vernon Nagel, CEO of Acuity[/pullquote_right]All told, the firm’s View Dynamic Glass windows can cut energy usage during peak load times by 25 percent to 30 percent, said Brandon Tinianov, vice president of business development with View. So far the company, formerly known as Soladigm, has installed its windows in roughly 100 projects, including the W Hotel in San Francisco, NASA Sustainability Base in Mountain View and Steamboat Christian Center in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

“When you’re building a new office and know that the peak load is going to be 25 percent less, that means you can make the HVAC system 25 percent smaller,” he said. “That’s a significant savings. So you have savings on the design side and operations side.”

Those savings should be especially attractive to property owners, developers and builders in California, which has mandated that, by 2030, commercial buildings must not consume any incremental energy under the state’s “zero net energy” endeavor.

View is working on about 50 projects currently, Tinianov said. The company’s prospects have caught the attention of Menlo Park-based Madrone Capital, a growth company investor that’s tied to Walmart family heirs, which earlier this year announced that it had plowed $100 million into the firm.

The potential contribution that View’s windows and similar products can make to the sustainable building movement also is becoming better understood by organizations that measure the growth and impact of alternative energy solutions. In a report looking at the revenues generated by clean energy companies in varying business segments, Navigant Research estimated that smart glass products in the building industry generated $88 million globally in 2013. But it also marked the first year that windows were included in the building category.

Navigant conducted the study on behalf of Advanced Energy Economy, a clean energy association founded by activist Tom Steyer. On the whole, it estimated that sustainable building products generated nearly $44 billion in revenues in the U.S. in 2013, an increase of roughly 25 percent over 2011. By comparison, companies serving the clean electricity business segment focused on solar, wind, nuclear, natural gas and other technologies accounted for revenues of $31.3 billion in the U.S. in 2013, according to the report.

Within the building segment, Navigant suggested that sustainable lighting companies generated $52 billion globally in 2013. In particular, it projects that global sales of LED products for commercial buildings will exceed $25 billion in 2021, about 10 times the sales last year.

Among other benefits, an LED, or light-emitting diode, is smaller, provides longer life and uses less energy versus incandescent and fluorescent lights. But LEDs are still more expensive today.

According to Managed Green, an Anaheim-based firm that provides LED retrofits for businesses, commercial building owners or operators that switch to the technology can reduce power usage by 70 percent and produce enough savings to cover the installation’s cost in about 30 months. A typical apartment complex, in one example, can generate $110,000 in operational savings over five years.

John Bruner, president of Managed Green, said that unfamiliarity with LEDs a few years ago posed the biggest challenge to the technology’s widespread adoption. That’s changing as LED products increasingly populate the shelves of Home Depot, Target and local hardware stores.

“Business activity, and more importantly the follow-through of management, has turned the corner,” he said. “Now everyone understands that LED is the next wave, and it has become more of a pure financial investment decision that either will or won’t make sense. And there are very few times that it won’t make sense.”

While users are benefitting from innovation in the LED space, a growing number of LED manufacturers and suppliers are discovering a deep profit potential. Durham, N.C.-based LED maker Cree, which supplied the lights for eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, in May introduced its LED T8 lamp to replace fluorescent bulbs and is specifically targeting the commercial market. The company estimates that fluorescent sockets are the dominant lighting fixture in commercial buildings, which make up about 40 percent of all lighting in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based lighting solution company Acuity Brands was recently recognized for 11 lighting and control products in the 2014 Illuminating Engineering Society Progress Report, which showcases the year’s most significant developments in the art and science of lighting. In early 2013, Acuity acquired San Francisco-based Adura Technologies, a developer of wireless controls and energy management systems.

Acuity reported in its fiscal third quarter earnings call this summer that that the purchase of Adura and other companies would expand Acuity’s technological expertise as well as geography as it pursues commercial users such as health care facilities, offices and industrial buildings. Among other products, Acuity is testing new retailer-targeted LEDs designed to not only cut power usage and enhance the environment, but to also communicate with customers in the store via smartphones.

“The market potential for this system is enormous, adding billions of dollars of potential future growth for Acuity and its partners,” said Vernon Nagel, CEO of Acuity, during the call.

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