Liquid Solar Technology Could Be Next Gen of Renewable Energy
Look out solar panels, there’s a new “first of its kind” solar technology in town!
Its makers said it’s engineered to outperform rooftop panels by 50-fold, and at a fraction of the cost. And this groundbreaking invention could potentially have the capability of turning an ordinary window into an electric socket.
Made up of the organic polymers, carbon, and hydrogen, the technology converts sun or artificial light sources into electricity when applied as a film layer to windows. Despite competition from many similar technologies not yet on the market, this innovation has stood the test of time.
For nearly 20 years, in response to global warming, numerous companies, research institutes, and federal agencies have been quietly developing and testing innovative ways to efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When the federal government began investing in carbon reducing projects in 2007, the solar industry ramped up its R&D.
With the demand for low cost, energy-efficient renewable energy increasing, company executives are clamoring to keep their groundbreaking inventions a secret, hoping to beat the competition in the race to commercialization. And while many corporate strategies veered off course resulting in company closures, executives at Solar Window Technologies Inc. (SWT) said their unique product, which is applied wet, and then dries as a film coating, is nearly ready for the market.
This electricity generating technology is made from organic earth-abundant materials, making it different from the plant-based photosynthesis technologies, which create chemical energy. John A. Conklin, CEO and president of SWT, explained that when light hits the technology, the mobility of electrons is activated, and that electron movement is electricity.
The Columbia, Maryland-based company is focused on scaling up the technology for its product, SolarWindow, which is a transparent, electricity generating coating for glass and plastics being developed for tall towers and skyscrapers—to turn them into electricity generators. One day the technology could be applied to single-family homes across America.
The company’s first working prototype, created in 2009, was a quarter of a grain of rice in size. Later prototypes grew incrementally in size to today’s largest at 1 foot by 1 foot.
The vision is to be able to generate renewable electricity through solar windows on all four sides of skyscrapers.
Conklin said SolarWindows can power a 50-story building, while it would take six to eight acres of land for a conventional solar panel array to power the same building. “From a big picture perspective that basically takes all of the area of Central Park away just for a few buildings,” he said.
According to Conklin, the investment in SolarWindows for a 50-story building would be recovered after just one year of energy cost savings, compared to the six to eight years it takes for solar panels.
The SolarWindow would be connected using the same wiring-based system as solar panels, but it would be connected in such a way that you don’t see wires coming from the modules.
The idea for getting the technology to market is to license it and the know-how to major glass manufacturers and fabricators around the world, who will bring the final product to fruition.
International energy expert, Peter Fox-Penner, a principal at economic and financial consulting firm The Brattle Group, said new solar products are a small fraction of the current energy supply, and that a large number of similar products exist, with more being invented.
“This technology fits in amongst many, many technologies that do similar things that are all going to be part of the landscape and all part of compliance with the Clean Power Plan,” he said, referring to the federal government’s plan for reducing carbon emissions.
Fox-Penner expects a gradual conversion to a largely renewable grid as more technologies are added in. He notes that regulatory rules are being rewritten so that it’s possible for utilities that run the power grid to make use of these new technologies.
Conklin is working to ensure that liquid electricity is among the choices, but said although there are similar technologies, they are still very different. He compared the liquid electricity technology to others that use dye sensitized solar cells, and another one that utilizes metals such as lead. He said those technologies are being used for rooftop solar panels, but SolarWindow will be integrated into the building.
Evolution of the Company
Founded in 1998 under the name Octillion Corp., the company underwent several transformations and experienced financial losses over the years. Continued strides in the last five years include partnerships and relationships with the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and award-winning scientists and engineers from companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Duke Energy.
Conklin said Octillion Corp. was a technology incubator and development company. At that time the company had begun working on motion power, which later resulted in the formation of a subsidiary called Kinetic Energy Corp (KEC) in 2008. Octillion also changed its name to New Energy Technologies in 2008.
Around the same time, one of the directors in the company was looking at organic light-emitting diode technology and trying to determine if there was a potential use for it in the biotech space. Their discovery was made when a little bit of electricity was generated by applying a coating to glass. Although the voltage was very, very, low, it was the spark of an idea.
That spark led to the formation of another subsidiary, New Energy Solar Corporation in 2009. This subsidiary entered into an agreement with the University of South Florida, where SolarWindow was established, and a strategy for commercialization was realized.
In furtherance of the commercialization strategy, in March 2015 New Energy Technologies was renamed Solar Window Technologies Inc.
Conklin touts the company’s success in outlasting strong competitors such as Konarka Technologies and Pythagoras Solar.
“Both of those companies had very different marketing strategies,” he said, “and as a result of their business strategies and product development, neither one of them are in business.”
For example, Conklin explains that despite all the money that Konarka invested in its technology, which was intended for building integrative photo voltaics (a similar application as SolarWindow) it commercialized a messenger bag and a solar umbrella, losing sight of its original goal.
“When we’re looking at success, and we’re looking at commercialization, a company must remain focused on its core strength,” Conklin emphasized, “and not dilute that with other product ideas that may sound great.”
In 2010, Conklin became the CEO and president of SWT at a time when its stock was at a low of 51 cents per share. Under his leadership, the stock has risen to $2.30 per share and SolarWindow has advanced toward commercialization.
Push for Commercialization Under Conklin
Infectiously positive and jovial, Conklin, who lives and works in upstate New York, has been married to his wife Lisa Conklin for 27 years and they have two sons in their 20s.
He was sought out by SWT in early 2010 to help the company identify ways to improve the methods of applying coatings and improve performance power and uniformity.
With 30 years of industrial, commercial, and renewable and alternative energy experience and a particular background in applying coatings as uniformly as possible, this almost 55-year-old family man was a good fit.
Conklin said the company implemented his recommendations and saw favorable results. In less than a year, the board of directors offered him the position as CEO.
But Conklin is no stranger to leadership roles as he already owns two companies. He takes pride in building teams. “I am an advocate of helping individuals excel and find their strengths among weaknesses and turning weaknesses into strengths,” he explained.
With Conklin at the helm, the company has seen some major accomplishments, such as new records for the size and performance of a solar window (validated by the United States Department of Energy at NREL), and an increase in shareholder numbers.
According to a June report by GTM Research, a division of Greentech Media, which provides market analysis, the cumulative global market for solar electricity is expected to triple by 2020 to almost 700 gigawatts. It predicts demand will be almost entirely market-based by 2020, as compared to 2012 when almost all demand was based on direct incentives.
SWT is hoping to tap into that market and has scheduled a webcast on Aug. 20 at 2 p.m. EST to give more information on a timeline for bringing its products to market.
Although he is not willing to reveal more details about the products at this time, Conklin did say that one of the window designs could be a fixture that you would actually plug into.
In addition, SWT has fabricated its SolarWindow in architecturally attractive colors, which Conklin said building designers, architects, building developers, and owners want. He adds that SWT’s technology “is being built for high speed, high volume, roll-to-roll, and sheet-to-sheet processing.”