Electromagnetic windows have been in research and development for several decades. The windows darken or lighten electronically, changing their tint based on a small amount of electricity–which could come from solar–that passes through the glass. That variation in tint gives an opportunity for these windows to become energy-savings devices. By blocking out heat, electromagnetic windows can serve as an insulator, therefore reducing energy consumption. So windows can be clear in the summer, while staying dark during colder months. The technology excites many, but it is also expensive, in part because of the tungsten dioxide layer that creates the magic electrochromatic layer behind the windows’ ability to fluctuate between light and dark.
Silicon Valley-based Soladigm is banking that electromagnetic windows’ pricing can decrease as they scale while builders install them in more office buildings. The three-year-old start-up, which is based in Milpitas, CA, has received funding from Sigma Partners and Khosla Ventures. Backed up by its raising of $30 million in debt and equity, along with a $3.5 million grant from the Department of Energy, Soladigm will open a manufacturing plant in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
Mississippi’s $40 million loan to Soladigm, paired with another $4 million in other financial incentives, made the decision to launch its manufacturing in the deep South an easy one for the Silicon Valley firm. The area already has a legacy of manufacturing: International Paper, for example, opened a facility there 20 years ago, when the population was 3,000: since then it has grown ten-fold. Close to Memphis and its large airport, Soladigm’s plant will have easy access to distribution and shipping. The decision also shows the challenges that “green job” advocates often overlook: like any other company, Soladigm is going to manufacture its products where the costs of living and labor are low, financial incentives are given, and where local officials are welcoming. Those who wonder where those green jobs are should not be surprised to find that they are not gaining traction in the more expensive areas of the US.
The young company faces many obstacles as its windows move from laboratory to warehouse to market. Electromagnetic windows do not block out all light sources, such as infra-red rays. Soladigm, which has been successful at gaining new patents, has developed a new thin film that it hopes will solve the problem of trapped heat. Finally, at costs approaching up to $100 a square foot, builders and architects will look the other way unless the price can descent closer to $20. Nevertheless, DeSoto County residents will not sniff at 100 new jobs added as this move is just one of many steps needed to wean the country away from imported fossil fuels.