Outdoor Retailer Patagonia Tests Solar Windows

The clothing seller tries out green energy that works via transparent cells

Source: Wall Street Journal.

At Patagonia Inc.’s California headquarters, some windows double as power generators.

The outdoor-clothing retailer is one of the first companies to test solar-panel windows, a new and largely unproven technology that proponents hope will become a crucial source of electricity for homes and commercial buildings.

The windows look much like normal windows, but include a layer of transparent photovoltaic cells between panes of glass that turn sunlight into electricity. Cables connect the windows to charging stations where Patagonia employees can power their cellphones.

Solar power has surged in popularity in recent years as more companies and building owners look to cut carbon emissions. Tenants and investors increasingly prefer environmentally friendly buildings, pushing up their values relative to other properties, real-estate brokers say.



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Meanwhile, a number of cities and states have passed laws that will fine building owners for carbon emissions beyond a set threshold. In 2018, California passed a law that requires solar panels on all new homes and apartment buildings up to three stories tall, and will have a mandate for many types of new commercial buildings starting Jan. 1.

Proponents of solar-panel windows say the technology could allow owners of buildings with glass facades to generate far more solar power than by simply putting traditional solar panels on the roof. Patagonia’s headquarters will be an early test case of whether the technology can deliver on its promise.

Vincent Stanley, Patagonia’s director of philosophy, said the company’s headquarters complex in Ventura, Calif., has plenty of glass facades that would be suitable for solar-panel windows. “We can figure out how it works and support its development,” he said. “If it does work, the potential is enormous.”

For now, the company has installed 22 so-called transparent solar-harvesting windows produced by Next Energy Technologies Inc. in a south-facing facade at one of its Ventura buildings. The company’s campus is made up of about a dozen low-rise stucco buildings and includes a volleyball court, an indoor climbing wall, a surfboard factory and solar panels above the main parking lot.

Because solar-panel windows have to let light through to be transparent, they only capture about a quarter to a third as much energy as traditional panels, said Daniel Emmett, chief executive of Next.

Some homeowners might be reluctant to adopt them because they cost more than traditional windows absent government incentives and only pay off after a number of years, said Semida Silveira, a professor of practice in Cornell University’s systems engineering program. Still, she said that solar-panel windows, alongside traditional solar panels, could become an important tool to make buildings greener.

“Some buildings can become powerhouses and produce energy not only for themselves but also for a whole neighborhood,” Ms. Silveira said.

Mr. Emmett said his company has yet to decide how much its windows will cost but estimates they will pay off for customers in one to five years thanks to federal tax creditsand savings on electricity bills.

Solar-panel windows also capture infrared light, keeping rooms cooler and reducing the need for air-conditioning, Mr. Emmett said.


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Founded in 2011, Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Next isn’t the only company looking to sell transparent solar panels. Redwood City, Calif.-based Ubiquitous Energy, also established in 2011, said in January that it raised $30 million in venture funding from window-maker Andersen Corp. and other investors.

Patagonia has long supported green initiatives, and its headquarters are already partly powered by solar energy. Founder Yvon Chouinardsaid in September that he transferred ownership of the company to a trust and nonprofit organization that will use its profit to fight climate change.

Write to Konrad Putzier at konrad.putzier@wsj.com