In November 2018, Softbank Vision Fund, the investment arm of the multinational conglomerate, announced that it had invested a whopping $1.1 billion into View, a supplier of internet-connected window panes. This investment will help the eleven-year old firm develop its production facilities and marketing operations. View produces glass with a proprietary electrochromic coating and embedded controls that can connect to an app used by building occupants seeking to adjust local environmental conditions to suit their own personal preferences. This enables View’s glass installations to help regulate the level of heat, glare and daylight within a building.
View has already raised over $800 million from investors Corning, DBL Investors, GE, Khosla Ventures, Madrone Capital Partners, NanoDimension, Navitas Capital, Reinet Investments, Sigma Partners, The Westly Group and TIAA Investments. Softbank’s investment brings its total funding to around $2 billion. View’s customers have installed its products across 35 million square feet in offices, airports, educational institutions, healthcare centres and multi-family residential properties. Notable examples of current installations include large facilities with huge efficiency savings potential, such as a $25 million contract with the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium and a dozen hospitals operated by Kaiser Permanente.
View’s value proposition rests on three pillars. The first is its ability to enhance occupant wellbeing by reducing the headaches, eyestrain and drowsiness associated with suboptimal levels of lighting. The second is the potential for the smart glass to reduce energy spend by automating the intake of natural light to reduce the reliance on indoor bulb fixtures to sufficiently illuminate an environment. The third is by raising the value of a property via the use of smart building technology that cuts down on long term expenditure; for instance, the use of View’s smart glass eliminates the need for shading via blinds or shutters that may need replacing. This also eliminates a common knock-on effect: if office workers notice glare, they can close shutters, which lowers the indoor temperature, and this in turn potentially leads to greater use of heating.
These three pillars chime with some of the current trends Verdantix has identified in its 2018 global survey of 303 corporate real estate executives. Over 70% of respondents deemed building occupant wellbeing, improved connectivity from IoT technologies and the increasing use of mobile applications to be either “very influential” or “influential” market trends over the next three years (see infographic below).
This technology is subject to the same dilemma that many other smart building technologies have to overcome: the smart glass manufactured by suppliers like View can cost between $50 and $100 per square foot compared to conventional glass installations, which cost between $10 and $15 for the equivalent area, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But for customers willing to stomach the upfront costs, the long-term benefits touch on multiple, interrelated improvement points within the built environment: (1) the use of connected technology to optimize hard FM operations such as heating and lighting, (2) which delivers more efficient energy use in large facilities such as airports and hospitals, (3) as well as the capacity to cater for occupants with different preferences for indoor environmental conditions.
So, will this technology break out of the niche of new high value buildings? The critical factor for the future trajectory of installations with embedded technology is the visibility and reliability of the returns. The feedback from View clients bodes well, with some having realized yearly energy savings of between 20% and 39%, and higher rental return, adding, in one example, $8.2 million in asset value and $450,000 worth of extra revenue per year.