Smart-glass windows that go opaque and generate power

Two French companies, construction giant Vinci and solar specialist Sunpartner Technologies, have formed an equal joint venture to produce a smart-glass window that can generate electricity, become opaque, sense its surroundings and communicate over the internet.

According to Sunpartner, this combination of qualities can cut a building’s energy consumption up to 30% by reducing its exposure to sunlight and therefore its need for air conditioning. The ability of the window to alter its opacity in response to external conditions can be controlled by a building management system or by smartphone app.

As well as passively saving energy, Horizon windows can actively generate it. Jérôme Stubler, the chief executive of Vinci Construction, said: "I’m convinced that tomorrow, all buildings will become energy hubs … The surfaces of modern buildings are beginning to produce energy and this trend will accelerate faster than we can imagine because we have a very large surface area available close to the place of consumption."

Sunpartner has invested €8m euros on a factory for the Horizon windows. Production is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of next year, and it is forecast to rise to 150,000 square metres a year. It is expected that the market supplied by this output will reach $3.5bn by 2020.

The companies say that the capital cost of the window will be the same as a traditional system, but that it will be 20% cheaper to clean and maintain.

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