Ubiquitous Energy aims to transform skyscrapers into vertical solar farms

Ubiquitous Energy solar energy capture windows installed at Michigan State University.

Courtesy of Ubiquitous Energy

A start-up in materials science, Omnipresent energy, is raising tens of millions of dollars to transform windows into surfaces that capture solar energy. The Californian start-up announced on Tuesday that it had closed a $ 30 million funding round, including an investment from the giant in the manufacture of consumer doors and windows. Andersen Company, bringing its total funding raised to $ 70 million.

Ubiquitous manufactures window covering that uses semiconductor materials to convert sunlight into electricity. The coating is only a few nanometers thick and tiny wires connect the solar window to the electrical systems where the energy is used

The pre-income company will use the most recent funding to do manufacturing research and development, 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 farms.”

Ubiquitous is also targeting the residential market, which makes Anderson’s investment particularly strategic. Anderson is a private company and does not disclose its financial data, but told CNBC it had more than $ 3 billion in revenue in 2021.

Anderson was particularly impressed with Ubiquitous because its solar film is transparent and discreetly integrated into the window frame.

“Although there are competing solar window technologies in development, most have tradeoffs in terms of transparency, color, obstruction of the viewing area, haze, or energy efficiency, which makes difficult for consumers to accept them as alternatives to standard windows, ”wrote Prabhakar (KP) Karri and Karl Halling, who led the company’s investment in response to CNBC’s query.

Stone knows that this transparency is the key to success.

“They have to look indistinguishable from traditional windows or else we won’t see a massive rollout,” Stone said. “Aesthetics are our guide.”

30% more expensive than ordinary window glass

The $ 30 million raise is a bridge in preparing the company for manufacturing 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 the fight against climate change is an urgent priority. Ubiquitous and its investors are relying on this sense of urgency to stimulate demand for its product despite its higher cost – solar-powered window panels are expected to be around 30% more expensive than regular glass that goes into windows an both large-scale production, Stone told CNBC.

Solar glass is also less efficient than traditional solar panels, which operate at a maximum of 22% efficiency – 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 deliver about 10% efficiency, or “about half of conventional solar power,” Stone said, but its theoretical highs are around two-thirds of the time. the potential efficiency of ordinary solar panels.

Part of this lower efficiency is simply due to the fact that the windows are vertical, while the solar panels are laid out horizontally, allowing them to catch more direct sunlight.

“But we’re allowing a surface that wasn’t already generating electricity to generate electricity,” Stone said. “Glass has always been passive, and we make it active here.”

Ubiquitous Energy windows installed in Boulder Commons, Colorado.

Photo courtesy of Ubiquitous Energy

By 2050, Ubiquitous hopes to have one billion square feet of glass installed worldwide.

It’s a lofty goal, and Stone is lucid about the challenges ahead.

“The things that keep me awake at night are things like, Can we meet our production schedule? “Will we find exactly the right manufacturing location that will allow us to innovate on time when we want? Will this ramp up to production go as well as we think it is?”

While Stone’s current focus is on the execution of 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, like automobiles and even agriculture,” Stone said. “So we don’t stop at the windows.”

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