NYC is getting taller, denser by the year. Powering all those skyscrapers sustainably might seem impossible. You won't think so if you talk with John Conklin, President, CEO and Director of the Maryland based company, SolarWindow Technologies, Inc.
I just had one of the most uplifting, mind blowing conversations with John. He explained how his firm is developing transparent, electricity-generating liquid coatings for glass and flexible plastics. Similar advancements are being made with transparent, electricity-generating veneers that can be cut and placed on existing windows to enable solar power generation.
Our sixty minute conversation with John was one of the best chats I have had about our green future since I interviewed techno guru, inventor, Ray Kurzweil, and filmmaker, Barry Ptolemy. The latter directed the must see documentary on Kurzweil, “Transcendent Man."
John A. Conklin, President and CEO of SolarWindow™ Technologies, Inc.
Sure, we can erect solar farms that can feed green energy into the grid. But, that occupies precious land resources that could otherwise be preserved in natural state or utilized for food production. Kurzweil assured me some years ago that within two decades time solar energy would power the entire planet. Since then, I've imagined solar panels are going to soon appear antiquated in the way that vinyl LPs and VHS tapes seem now-- quaint, historic and museum worthy, not part of a seamless digital world and the ever expanding Internet of things.
SolarWindow (TM) gives credence to these thoughts of mine. This is the cutting edge of the exponential change rapidly manifesting. Initially, the focus of Solar Technologies will be on integrating their sci-fi sounding technology in the commercial real estate market, especially skyscrapers. Obviously, skyscapers' energy demand is immense. Likewise, the combined surface area of the high-rise facades is extensive. The potential to generate power is monumental. "A 50 story building may have 6 acres of glass. Think of all the value in going vertical," John enthused, he being at the forefront of all this possibility.
Electricity-generating SolarWindow™ module being developed in architecturally-neutral colors
It is indeed exciting when considering just how much solar potential exists on the facades of NYC skyscrapers. Especially so, when you hear John explaining how the SolarWindow (TM) technology does not generate power only from direct sunlight. John's personal ardor and farsightedness was infectious: "Think of what it will be like when we can generate power from our own interior lighting as transparent, electricity-generating coatings will capture ambient light, and can even capture power from reflections on the north side of buildings!”
Solar Technologies reports their technology achieves payback within one year, according to first-ever, independently-validated financial modeling results. And, get this. To produce the equivalent amount of energy for a skyscraper with conventional solar systems would require at least a 5-11 year payback and a minimum 10-12 acres of valuable urban land.
With plans for a commercial product at end of 2017, I asked John if there were any projects proposed for the big green apple. He offered that they were in talks with different developers all around the world. “We would love to do a project on a building like the Empire State Building, but also on a new, all-glass building in Dubai." Indeed, the sky is the limit.
Dr. Scott Hammond, principal scientist, works on SolarWindow™ development
John further clarified the plan of his great project. Just as how their evolving solar PV technology will be seamlessly integrated into buildings, their business strategy is to mesh their technology with existing glass and window manufacturing processes. In fact, John attests that one particular strategic partner in the glass and windows industry is already interested in incorporating the energy-generating building product technology they create into their own manufacturing facilities.
I asked John if the power from SolarWindow (TM) would be fed into the grid. He said NO, not really, because the energy demand for a tall tower or skyscraper is so large. Rather, he envisions developers offering tenants green leases that have PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) so that companies can buy power generated from their own office windows. The power going to each floor or office will be used as it is generated. Essentially, each office will become its own power plant, micro grid. Talk about getting rid of power transmission issues and antiquated grid infrastructure problems.
Solar Window Technologies demonstrating SolarWindows (TM) in NYC
Because SolarWindow (TM) technology can also be sprayed on plastic, paint or other surfaces, besides windows, think of the possibilities of generating power in other applications. John noted: "Imagine a tractor trailer truck driving down the highway, generating its own electrical power."
Man is indeed transcending toward a brighter tomorrow, one not as bleak as the current political, social, economic and environmental "climate" might suggest.
Banner from the film "Transcendent Man"
Don't get me wrong, we still need to fight against a broken energy model relying on fossil fuels and old paradigms. It is paramount, for instance, that we join with our Native American brothers and sisters at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to question pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline that mar the earth and threaten water supply. Moving away from coal, fracking and dirty energy that pulled humanity this far into modernity is crucial for they no longer work within an expanding population and limited, overburdened planet.
John summoned: “We are at a crossroads of climate change and resource depletion. And, smack in the middle is the need to meet the energy demands of a growing population."
There is no need for despair. Hope abounds everywhere.
Just recently, I read on PSFK that engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a fabric containing nano generators that can produce power from movement of the fabric, as well from the sun.
Electricity-generating fabric at Georgia Institute of Technology
Imagine a glass hotel tower where the guests checking in wear stylish outfits made with smart fabric which powers their personal devices. They enter rooms with electricity-generating windows, transparent ones with a view. When they need a little privacy, they pull the curtains which also generates energy and is yet another seamless part of the room's micro grid producing power for the sexy recessed lighting and all important mini-fridge.
Not to mention, with the curtains drawn, energetic guests can jump into a comfy bed covered with nano fabrics that also yield useful energy from movement between the sheets.
In future, Skyscrapers and elsewhere, ordinary windows will be the extraordinary. What happens between the sheets will be electric in more ways than one.