Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

The  Wednesday Interview with Veeral Hardev of Ubiquitous Energy

Is the sun shining where you are? Well let’s not waste it! It’s energy, it’s free, it’s clean and it’s renewable. You may be picking some of it up through the solar panels on your roof, but the sun lights up the whole world. Here’s a man to tell you how to make the most of it!

 

Anthony Day: Veeral Hardev is the Vice President Strategy at Ubiquitous Energy. Veeral, welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report.

Veeral Hardev: Hi, Anthony. Thanks for having me. Glad to be here

Anthony Day: Today we're going to talk about solar energy, but we're not going to talk about solar panels. Explain to me how your company's technology works.

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, it's a great question. Well, we consider it solar panels that are unique and different. Almost like a new generation of solar panels. Our technology is very similar to the way that traditional solar panels or solar technology works. It receives sunlight and it harvests some of that energy, converts some of that into usable energy or electricity. The novel thing that we have is that we've developed a solar panel that's essentially invisible or completely transparent. And that's what makes us different from traditional solar panels. And the way it works is quite simple in concept. Essentially our solar technology receives some light just like other solar panels converts some of that up to use electricity. The trick is we don't absorb any of the visible light, the light that we know as color, and we let all of that light pass through. So to me and you, our device or our technology looks virtually transparent or completely invisible, but it's still functional because it's absorbing and converting the light energy that we don't see from sunlight, which is mostly in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum and the infrared, which actually has most of the energy potential that comes from sunlight.

Anthony Day: So we're talking about solar windows.

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, exactly. So you could apply our technology to windows and basically you wouldn't really even know that our coating or our technology is embedded within the window because it's transparent. And so you still ... it still functionally looks like a window and aesthetically pleasing and then transparent, but of course it's functional because it's now capturing some of that invisible solar energy and converting that into useful electricity.

Anthony Day: And how do you collect that energy from the window?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, great question. So the coating itself, or the technology itself, is on the plane or on the entire surface of the glass and it transports the energy, the holes and the electrons, to the edges of the glass, where then it's then transferred out by physical wires, electrical wires. And then it's like a traditional solar panel or electricity kind of source. So you can take those wires and connect it to whatever you would like to power or to drive. Whether you want to connect it directly to a battery for energy storage, or you want to connect it directly to some other appliances or devices that run off of direct current, of course, we're producing direct current just like traditional technology is in DC. So oftentimes there's a need or want to maintain the energy in DC so that you don't have losses transitioning from, or inverting from, DC to AC to back to DC. So it's a trend that we've noticed that seems to be growing in terms of keeping the power in direct current because all the appliances that we typically think about and use, run off direct current, like lighting and things like that.

Anthony Day: Now this coating you described, is this something that can be retrofitted? Can you take an existing window and spray the coating onto it? Or is this something which has to be manufactured as part of the window?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, great question. Eventually it is going to be something that can be retrofitted or applied after the fact, but right now we're focused on the manufacturing process for windows and glass. Our coating is basically just applied to the surface of the glass as part of that process. So it's essentially like a new window, but you can install this window into an existing building by replacing the existing window.

Anthony Day: And this could be a double glazed or triple glazed unit.

Veeral Hardev: Exactly right.

Anthony Day: I understand you've got a couple of sites where this has already been installed and you are entering long term evaluation processes. One of them I think is Michigan State University and you've got another one in Japan.

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, that's right. We have several installations now kind of around, it used to be we called it, in California, then around the country and now it's kind of around the world, as you mentioned, with the latest one in Japan. We've installed a number of these windows into existing facilities, sometimes new buildings. The installation we did at a building in Boulder, Colorado was actually a new construction building that was going for the highest energy efficiency that was possible. So, in that particular building they actually put traditional solar panels on the vertical surface of the building, which didn't have window space. So, it's a building that looks just like a solar panel on the side of it. Where there's windows, it's using our technology. So you still have windows that you can see in and out of.

But you're right, the installation at Michigan State, we've done one at our partner in Tokyo and Japan, and we're also done one at a partner of ours in Toledo, Ohio. That went into an existing building where, again, they actually replaced the existing windows and installed our windows. Then we're going to be doing a demonstration at a major building in a downtown area, in Manhattan or New York City coming up soon.

Anthony Day: Right. Now, the thing about windows, or the vast majority of windows, is that they are perpendicular to the ground and solar panels generally tends to be elevated, I don't know, 15 to 50 degrees from the horizontal. And it varies according to the latitude of where these panels are installed. So given that you are stuck, that you've got to have vertical surfaces, does that affect the efficiency and the yield of your panels?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah. Great question. It doesn't technically affect the efficiency, but it does affect the yield, right? So, the technology will perform the same in terms of whatever orientation or elevation it's placed on. But there is a trade off, or not a trade off, there is a direct correlation to how much incident solar intensity that the solar panel or the window will see. So you're exactly right. You're going to get a lot more solar intensity, or incident illumination, on a horizontal or a slightly tilted surface, than you are on a completely 90 degree vertical surface. That varies across the world, as you can imagine, by longitude and latitude. Typically, if you wanted to take just a global average, you're probably going to be in the range of about 50 to 70% of the solar illumination on a vertical surface, as you would be, as opposed to, a horizontal surface. So there is a little bit of a loss there just because of where it's placed in general. That goes with any solar technology it's not really unique or specific to ours, it's just directly correlated to how much sunlight that particular surface is able to see, essentially.

Anthony Day: Okay. And I've got to a point now where I'm going to have to edit this out because I've lost my thought, but I'll get it back in a minute.

Veeral Hardev: No Problem.

Anthony Day: Yes. Do you see your windows as a replacement for rooftop solar? Thinking particularly in the domestic market?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah. Great question. The short answer is definitely no. We see our technology as being more of a complimentary technology. We talk to a number of different people potentially, customers, designers, architects, developers, and our message is pretty simple. We would like people to integrate and deploy our technology, but it's not here to replace any existing renewable energy generation technology. And what we mean by that is: where there are places where if on a home or structure or building, if there is rooftop area or if there is an area out in the field somewhere where you want to put solar technology, you're going to be best off putting the traditional technology because it's the most advanced, most efficient, most likely the most economical. But in areas where you would like to deploy solar technology, but you can't because of some, either real estate space constraint, or aesthetic constraint, particularly like windows, that's where we think we have a really good solution. We see the ability for our technology to work harmoniously with traditional technology, so that you're able to get even more renewable energy generation.

Anthony Day: Right. Well, the key question is: is the additional cost of coating the window glass offset by the yields from the solar fault, x?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, really good question. We think so. When we think about our technology, we think about it as kind of this combination of renewable solar energy generation technology and a window. By using our technology, it's kind of like a window that's doing something else, something in addition to what your traditional window does. Our cost as a window, versus a traditional window, is only going to be in the 20 to 30% premium. So it's not significant cost add. We're not doubling the cost, tripling the cost, or anything like that. And in most cases, when people build homes or buildings they want windows and they typically want more windows. Our technology enables, again, designers and architects and these building developers to actually potentially increase the number of those are actually able to put on their building, which obviously is more advantageous aesthetically, but also then gives them more value and benefit in terms of energy generation.

There's a number of ways that you could think about this value. We like to think of it in three major categories. One is definitely on the aesthetics and the way it looks. That's really important obviously for windows, because people like nice looking clear, transparent windows. You don't want that view, either inside or outside, to be really impeded. So that's one. The second one is on the energy performance. So, kind of inherent in our technology is really good thermal insulation or thermal performance, which is really important for windows. You have, you have solar energy coming in through the glass and the windows and a lot of that is, as I mentioned, infrared nonvisible light energy, which is also known as solar heat.

So if you're not blocking that or reflecting that or inhibiting that from entering the building, you can get this effect where a lot of that heat is coming through. With traditional windows, what's been developed is something called ow emissivity or, or low-e glass. And all that really is, is a series of metal oxide materials that are deposited on the surface of the glass, which essentially acts as a infrared mirror or reflector. It inhibits that light energy or that solar heat from passing into the building. So our technology works essentially in a very similar way, but as opposed to reflecting that light energy back out to the world, we're were actually capturing it and harnessing it and converting it into useful electricity. So we have the aesthetics, we have really good energy performance from that thermal insulation perspective, but also creating clean, renewable energy.

And then on the third side, as you're pointing out with your question is the value, is the financial payback. There's a number of things that we're able to provide, not only from an energy generation standpoint, where oftentimes we're able to take advantage of either tax incentives or credits because now the window is a solar system. Now it, that credit or incentive, doesn't just get applied to our technology. It gets applied to the whole system, which is the window and all of the wiring and all of the installation. So, that's a pretty nice driver. And the other one is ... I call kind of ancillary benefits. For example, things like: you're able to increase the building energy performance overall and you're able to get the building to get to a higher energy rated certification.

So things like LEED and LEED points and LEED credits, our technology is able to offer the ability to contribute towards a lot of those points and credits that otherwise the building wouldn't be at. So you're able to elevate, essentially, the rating of the building, which oftentimes is directly tied to increasing the value of the building or increasing rents that the landlord or the building owner can get from their tenants because more and more studies are showing people want to either work or live in places that are more energy efficient, higher rated. So it's becoming more of a conscious decision. Then, finally, just on the direct payback of the energy that's produced, that could be a pretty simple calculation of how much energy is produced, what's the value of that energy or electricity in that given market at the given utility rate, and you can apply the metrics and calculation that way. Depending where you are, it could be a pretty quick payback, within the order of a few years, or it could take a little bit longer, five to seven years. But in most cases it's a pretty compelling value proposition and that's the feedback that we've actually received from a number of building developers and consultants in the facade world that we've talked to.

Anthony Day: Right. Well, we've discussed the fact that you've got a couple of sites where you are undergoing long term evaluation, but is the product generally available on the market at the moment?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, no. Great question. Not yet. We're, as you can see in the image behind me, this is actually an image of the installation that we did at our headquarters here in California, where we essentially replaced the windows with our windows and they've been installed for almost two years now and they've been running. I would welcome you if you have a chance to visit San Francisco Bay area to come by and we'll love to show you around. But essentially these windows are sized at what's known as kind of the test certification size for new windows. And that's roughly 14 inches by 20 inches or roughly 35 centimeters by 50 centimeters.

And that's the current capability that we have at our facility. And it's not a limitation of the technology or the manufacturing process. It's really a constraint by ... from the equipment that we have. And so our plan is now, obviously, to get this to a commercial market and more broadly available is to get it to a larger size. So right now we're actually in the stages, final stages, of designing this what we call a high volume manufacturing line that will be able to produce windows as large as five foot by ten foot, which is more typical for what you would see in either commercial buildings or most residential homes. Our plan right now is to get that line designed by the end of this year. We're going to basically start ordering the equipment and install it at a site that we're looking at right now, somewhere in the United States and we expect that line to be operational producing windows up to that five foot by ten foot size in just about two years from now. So kind of the end of the year calendar year 2023, is when we expect this product to be commercially available.

Anthony Day: Great. And after that, do you plan to expand to Europe and beyond?

Veeral Hardev: Yeah, of course we do. Our expansion plans are really by design in terms of the way that we've developed the technology to be manufacture-able. And what I mean by that is, it's a coating that's applied using methods and processes and equipment set that basically every global glass manufacturer or glass coating company has around the world. We've developed it with this in mind because in order for this technology to be widely deployed and widely adopted as quickly as possible, we don't, we didn't want, to have to build hundreds and hundreds of factories around the world to get this product out there. We really felt really strongly that a lot of the glass companies and partners that we have, knowing our technology, we strongly believe, and they've kind of indicated to us, that we can essentially transfer or license this technology to them, and they can start producing it in their own factories. And that's really what's behind our expansion plans. We are in conversations with, advanced conversations, to essentially do this, license this technology to manufacturers, and all over the world, in Asia, South America, in Europe. That's really our plan to expand internationally as quickly as possible, but all starting with this first line that we're going to be building here in the United States.

Anthony Day: Well, Veeral, thank you very much for going into such detail and explaining what your company's doing. It looks like a bright future. We'll look forward to seeing your product over here in Europe, in the future. And thanks again.

Veeral Hardev: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for your time, Anthony. It was a pleasure talking with you.

That was Veeral Hardev. Find Ubiquitous Energy at ubiquitous.energy

I brought you this interview because I thought it was interesting and not in expectation of any reward. 

 

I just want to make it clear that these interviews are not advertorial. The Sustainable Futures Report accepts no advertising, sponsorship or subsidies and I have total editorial control. Of course I am always grateful for the support of my patrons who pay a small monthly contribution to help me cover my costs. If you would like to join their number you’re more than welcome. Find the details at patreon.com/sfr 

I’m Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report’s weekly interview. There will be another next week and a regular edition on Friday.

Bye for now!

    Image by kropekk_pl from Pixabay

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
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