Aug 30, 2022 - Technology

"Smart glass" is coming to a building near you

Illustration of a building in a city with a brain-shaped window

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Among the Inflation Reduction Act's little-noticed yet potentially game-changing provisions: a big incentive for "smart glass," which can make buildings significantly more energy efficient.

Why it matters: Buildings account for 27% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions, by one estimate. While eco-friendly buildings aren't as sexy or exciting as electric cars, anything that makes them greener is a big win for hitting climate goals.

Driving the news: The IRA, which President Biden signed into law earlier this month, includes a 30% smart glass tax credit.

  • While it didn't get much mainstream attention, that credit stands to increase adoption by reducing the effective cost of retrofitting old buildings or using smart glass in new construction.

How it works: Smart glass, also called "dynamic glass" or "electrochromic glass," differs from regular glass in that its tint level can be adjusted on demand — think Transitions glasses, but for buildings.

  • Smart glass contains thin layers of metal oxide. When small amounts of electricity are applied to those layers, ions move between them, changing the glass' tint level.
  • When the summer sun is hitting the side of a building, the tint level can be increased, allowing visible light to pass but blocking some solar radiation — thereby reducing incoming heat.
  • Conversely, the tint can be decreased in colder seasons, allowing more natural heat to pass through.

Smart glass can help reduce a building's heating or cooling energy needs by about 20%, per a U.S. Department of Energy estimate.

  • Plus, if lots of buildings in a single city adopt smart glass, it can reduce the peak load on the local electric grid during times of heavy use.

What they're saying: "The demand here is just going to explode as a result of this," says Rao Mulpuri, CEO of smart glass maker View, of the IRA tax credit.

  • View's glass systems are connected to the cloud and managed by predictive, automatic dimming software.
  • The company's U.S.-made glass has been or is set to be installed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, an Amazon office in Redmond, Washington, and 10 World Trade, which aims to be one of Boston's greenest buildings.
  • Other companies in the space include SageGlass and Gentex, the latter of which focuses on automotive and aerospace applications.

Yes, but: Smart glass is still pretty expensive, and building owners don't change out their windows all that often.

  • Yet, as with other kinds of green tech, long-term energy bill savings can make up for upfront installation costs.

What's next: Commercial clients make up the bulk of View's customers, but multifamily residential buildings are the company's fastest-growing segment.

  • If prices continue to fall, smart glass could show up in more homes.

The big picture: Combined with the semiconductor industry-boosting chips bill, the IRA's green tech incentives could jump-start America's high-tech hardware industry, Mulpuri says.

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