Ubiquitous Energy solar energy capture window installed at Michigan State University.
Courtesy Ubiquitous Energy
A materials science start-up, Ubiquitous Energy, is raising tens of millions of dollars to turn windows into surfaces that capture solar energy. The Californian start-up announced Tuesday that it had completed a $ 30 million financing round, including an investment by window and door manufacturer Andersen Corporation, bringing the total funding to $ 70 million.
Ubiquitous makes a coating for windows that uses semiconducting materials to convert sunlight into electricity. The coating is only nanometers thick and tiny wires connect the solar window to electrical systems in which the energy is used
The company before the proceeds will use the latest funds to conduct research and development in manufacturing, CEO Susan Stone told CNBC. Ubiquitous aims to produce on a large scale by early 2024, Stone said.
When they get there, “we’ll be able to make floor-to-ceiling glass,” Stone said. “We can turn skyscrapers into vertical solar parks.”
Ubiquitous is also targeting the home housing market, which makes the Anderson investment particularly strategic. Anderson is a privately held company and does not disclose its financial data, but did tell CNBC that it had revenues of over $ 3 billion in 2021.
Anderson was particularly impressed with Ubiquitous because its solar film is clearly and inconspicuously integrated into the window frame.
“While there are competing solar window technologies under development, most have tradeoffs in terms of transparency, color, viewing area blocking, haze, or energy efficiency, making them difficult for consumers to accept as alternatives to standard windows,” wrote Prabhakar (KP) Karri . and Karl Halling, who led the company’s investments in response to CNBC’s inquiry.
Stone knows that this transparency is the key to success.
“They don’t have to be indistinguishable from traditional windows or we won’t see mass usage,” said Stone. “Aesthetics is our guiding principle.”
30% more expensive than normal window glass
The $ 30 million increase is a bridge to getting the company ready for production after more than a decade of work. Ubiquitous was founded in 2011, and its technology grew out of the work of scientists and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michigan State University.
Since then, more and more investors and consumers believe that tackling climate change is an urgent priority. Ubiquitous and its investors rely on this urgency to drive demand for their product despite the higher cost – the solar power window panels are expected to be around 30% more expensive than regular glass used in windows once production is scaled up. Stone told CNBC.
The solar glass is also less efficient than traditional solar panels, which operate at a maximum efficiency of 22% – a measure of the amount of sunlight that falls on the surface of a solar panel and is converted into electricity.
Ubiquitous has a window in its research and development pipeline that will offer about 10% efficiency, or “about half that of traditional solar power,” Stone said, but its theoretical maximums are about two-thirds the potential efficiency of traditional solar panels.
Part of this lower efficiency is only due to the windows being vertical while the solar panels are horizontal, which allows them to collect more direct sunlight.
“But we’re enabling a surface that wasn’t producing electricity to produce electricity,” Stone said. “Glass has always been passive, and we make it active here.”
Omnipresent energy windows installed in Colorado’s Boulder Commons.
Photo courtesy Ubiquitous Energy
By 2050, Ubiquitous hopes to have a billion square feet of its window panes installed worldwide.
It’s an ambitious goal, and Stone has clear eyes for the challenges ahead.
“The things that keep me up at night are things like, ‘Can we keep our production schedule?’ “Will we find exactly the right production site that will allow us to start when we want in our timeframe? Will this start of production go as smoothly as we think?”
While Stone is currently focused on executing architectural glass, this is only the first step in the longer-term vision.
“We have amazing applications in all kinds of industries like consumer electronics, automobiles, and even agriculture,” said Stone. “So we don’t stop at windows.”