Window into Energy Savings History

glass high rise
glass high rise
The benefit of reducing energy use, as opposed to enhancing energy production, is often overlooked as legislatures and lobbyists line up to garner mind-share in the energy debate. However, a remarkable lesson in energy savings was launched during the energy crisis of a few decades ago.

Some 1970s-era research at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory spurred an energy saving technology – based on thin-film applications – that has become standard in glass-wrapped high-rise towers, as well as glass plate windows in homes and buildings around the world.

The thin-film technology, dubbed “low-e” (for low emissivity), simultaneously helps block the sun’s heat while also maintaining ambient air-conditioned or heated air inside. At the time no one was using it for anything more than airplane cockpit windows. And, gaining market acceptance was complex, because the films were essentially something that couldn’t be seen or felt. Several case studies had to be done, in which the glass manufacturers would have two homes built side by side, one with low-e and the other without. The results showed not only savings in energy bills, but also the proper sizing of air conditioners / heating systems that can help reduce building costs.

As the team of self-proclaimed evangelists, headed by physicist Steve Selkowitz and his lab cohorts understood, the technology existed and was viable — it just needed the boost of scale to succeed. In stepped the industry pioneer of low-e glass equipment providers, which is now part of Applied’s Glass Division. As more of these new windows were sold, they became progressively cheaper, which in-turn drove market acceptance as well as tougher building codes.

Today, low-e glass saves consumers and business millions of energy dollars annually while also significantly reducing our collective carbon footprint. With just a few angstroms of judiciously applied raw materials, energy — and dollars — flying out windows are becoming a thing of the past.

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