In a corner of the country, a small company has quietly launched a technology promising to fill cities across the globe with buildings that don’t just sit there, but actively help pay their own running costs.
That technology is solar glass.
The product consists of ordinary panes of glass coated with specialised films, and sandwiched between them is a clear layer of material that absorbs solar radiation and redirects it to solar photovoltaic cells at the edge.
Perth company ClearVue launched a pilot project recently – a solar glass atrium at Warwick Grove shopping centre in the northern suburbs.
And soon, at a demonstration home in Fremantle, people will be able to see how the glass helps the home produce more energy than it needs to run, in combination with other technologies.
Founder and chief executive Victor Rosenberg imagines not only commercial buildings using the technology, but home windows, doors and skylights creating energy, bus shelters generating their own lighting, and cars helping power themselves.
The glass creates localised power that can run dimmers and automatic blinds without the need for cabling. It lets through less noise than ordinary glass and insulates, reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling. Victor anticipates a time in which curtains will no longer be necessary, as the panels will be able to turn opaque then back to clear.
He has secured $1.6 million in federal funding for a prototype greenhouse at Murdoch University that provides not only insulation but also the ability to generate energy for desalination and lighting.
Mr Rosenberg has poured more than two decades into making his idea a reality.
He developed the current form of the technology alongside Edith Cowan University researchers between 2011 and 2016, starting with a tiny (and back then, very expensive) square of glass that now sits in a mini-museum at the West Perth headquarters.
Manufacturing began in China at the end of the last year, and ClearVue is now working with Singapore, Israel and the University of New South Wales. It has completed certification for its first window model to comply with Australian and European Standards and is working to meet US standards.
“The export potential is enormous,” Mr Rosenberg said.
“All architects want functional glass, not a sterile, static product that’s just lying there.”
But the first target is the Australian construction industry; Mr Rosenberg is positioning himself at the forefront of the ‘smart cities’ movement, and looks forward to the day legislation requires all construction to use products such as his.
“It’s something that will be here beyond all our lives,” he said.
“I’d like to see all new buildings use the smartest glass available.
“Even my grandkids, who are in their 20s now … even when I go to have a burger with them they are telling me not to use this cup or that packet. It’s in the whole way people think now.
“The International Energy Agency recently stated that energy efficiency is the world’s most important fuel.
“That’s exactly what we stand for.”
ClearVue’s technology is so close to the cutting edge it scored a mention in 2040, the new documentary from Damon Gameau, whose 2015 project That Sugar Film was the highest-grossing Australian cinema documentary of all time.
In 2040, Gameau embarks on a (carbon-offset) global journey to explore what the future could look like by the year 2040.
In a narrative told as a visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter, Gameau blends traditional documentary with dramatised scenes and high-end visual effects to create a kind of vision board of how these solutions could renew the world for her generation.
“Every time you open your news feed, there’s some kind of doom and gloom story … as a father, I think there’s room for a different story,” Gameau says at the start of 2040, which opened in cinemas on Thursday.
“My plan is to go out and find some of these solutions and then create a vision of a different future for our daughter.
“Everything I show her in this 2040 has to exist today in some form. I can’t make it up. I’m calling it an exercise in fact-based dreaming.”
Gameau has filmed examples of futuristic technologies already up and running in places as far-flung as Tanzania, Bangladesh, Ohio, London, Brooklyn, Sweden, Singapore and Melbourne..
The first potential game-changer canvassed is homes generating their own solar power and forming independent, resilient ‘micro-grids’ that allow profits to stay within local communities.
“Imagine if your house in 2040 is part of a microgrid that helps power the economy throughout your city,” he says.
“Imagine if your windows are solar glass which comes standard with new homes.
“If cheaper home energy systems are combined with more people demanding clean energy from their politicians then there’s a chance that many countries could be close to 100 per cent renewable by 2040.”
Gameau told WAtoday solar glass technology could and should be standard in homes by 2040.
“It could be on screens on our phones, on car windows, on roofs,” he said.
“It’s a really interesting way to power our cities and buildings in a discreet way you wouldn’t even notice.
“These technologies fundamentally transform how we redistribute energy.”
The documentary’s guiding principle was the desires for the future voiced by children interviewed across the countries visited.
It shows a world in which shared driverless electric transport is the norm and has minimised new roads and carparks; in which agricultural practices have transformed; in which huge ocean permaculture farms are ‘planting’ seaweed forests that provide food and habitat, absorb carbon and help restore the ocean’s natural acidity.
“[The election result] teaches us people are still scared of change,” Gameau said.
“People got scared and doubled down and stuck to what they know.
“We have to communicate solutions that not only turn the environmental situation around, but that provide jobs, the security people desperately wanted.
“We don’t have to go and live in a cave and light a candle.
“We have a duty to share solutions in a really new way and any storyteller has a responsibility to get this done.
“Any change at a government level has only ever come from people at a ground level.
“We need to teach our leaders how to lead.
“To act on our own agency and get involved.
“Whoever won the election wasn’t going to come in with a magic wand. We always had to keep pushing; and even more so now.”