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DOE launches $2 million prize to advance cost-effective, energy-efficient commercial windows

Windows and Doors

DOE launches $2 million prize to advance cost-effective, energy-efficient commercial windows

The inaugural Building Envelope Innovation Prize targets novel solutions for commercial window upgrades to enable equitable decarbonization and optimize building envelopes for electrification.


By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | February 28, 2024
DOE launches $2 million prize to advance cost-effective, energy-efficient commercial windows
Illustration of an energy-efficient secondary glazing system being installed in a commercial building with minimal disruption. Graphic by Al Hicks, NREL

The U.S. Department of Energy launched the American-Made Building Envelope Innovation Prize—Secondary Glazing Systems. The program will offer up to $2 million to encourage production of high-performance, cost-effective commercial windows. 

The inaugural Building Envelope Innovation Prize targets novel solutions for commercial window upgrades to enable equitable decarbonization and optimize building envelopes for electrification, according to a DOE news release.

Secondary glazing involves installing an additional windowpane on an existing window to improve insulation.

“About 40% of U.S. commercial buildings, including multifamily residences, have single-pane windows, which are uncomfortable for occupants and waste energy,” says Jeff Marootian, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “Yet less than 1% of commercial buildings get full window replacements each year because it is so expensive and disruptive for occupants. Secondary glazing systems can help solve this problem.”

“While secondary glazing systems currently exist, they are a small portion of the market and are not widely adopted, despite costing markedly less than a full window replacement,” says Marc LaFrance, windows technology manager for DOE’s Building Technologies Office. “This prize will improve equitable access to efficient retrofit technologies by reducing product and installation costs.”

Here are more details from DOE: 
Secondary glazing systems currently on the market can improve energy efficiency without needing to remove existing windows, but the potential of this technology has not been fully realized. The goal of this prize is to spur development of next-generation secondary windows that increase building resilience and comfort and decrease energy consumption—all while being highly cost-effective.

Improved window energy efficiency will lead to more attainable building electrification, as smaller heat pumps will be able to serve the building’s reduced energy needs. The Building Envelope Innovation Prize aims to fund development of promising, cost-effective, market-ready secondary glazing system solutions across three phases:

Phase 1: Design Concept—$50,000 | February 14 to June 13, 2024

  • Teams will provide an innovative concept narrative and design drawings for a secondary glazing system prototype, including details on cost and energy performance.
  • Up to five semifinalists will be selected, each receiving $50,000.
  • Phase 1 awards will be based on energy and technical performance modeling, cost metrics, and construction plans.
  • Teams can only join during Phase 1

Phase 2: Prototype—$200,000 | September 2024 to March 2025

  • Semifinalist teams selected from Phase 1 will submit a secondary glazing system prototype and technical narrative as well as secure an equity-focused pilot demonstration partner.
  • Phase 2 focus areas will include market readiness, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to be deployed.
  • Up to three finalists will be selected, each receiving $200,000.
  • Phase 2 awards will be based on prototype construction, as well as thermal and optical performance tests run by a national laboratory.

Phase 3: Commercialization—$750,000 | May 2025 to May 2026

  • Finalist teams selected from Phase 2 will work with their equity-focused pilot demonstration partners and submit plans for commercialization. 
  • Phase 3 will focus on commercial viability—including price point, ease of installation, etc.
  • Up to two winners will be selected. First place will receive $750,000; second place will receive $400,000.
  • Phase 3 awards will be based on prototype durability testing results, rigor of commercialization plans, and implementation of equity-focused pilot demonstrations in low-income multifamily or underserved public sector buildings.

The Design Concept phase will accept applications of innovative secondary glazing system designs through June 13, 2024. All interested applicants must join by that date; Phase 2 and Phase 3 will not accept new competitors. 

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