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Morgan Solar, Cisco to test blinds that generate solar power

Energy Blinds look like regular window coverings, can generate 50W per window on average

Morgan Solar's Energy Blinds at use in the Cisco Innovation Labs' pilot in Toronto. (Courtesy Agnostic)

Solar energy technology company Morgan Solar Inc. and the Cisco Innovation Labs, both based in Toronto, are collaborating on a pilot project for office window blinds that also act as solar panels.

The tests will look into how Morgan Solar’s Energy Blinds function in an office setting, where they can capture solar energy to power a meeting room or to store for use during peak times.

Combined with Cisco’s Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) switch that can control power distribution and automates the blinds, and Webex that detects when the room is not in use to optimize energy savings, the Toronto pilot is designed to explore ways to support sustainability in office buildings.

“There’s no sign in the room that says that there’s Energy Blinds in there,” Justin Cohen, leader at the Cisco Innovation Labs, said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

“Once they do realize it, they’re super happy about it. And now what we’re seeing is people are booking that room more often because all of a sudden, they realize, ‘Hey, that’s a room that has solar power, I want to be sustainable, I want to book that room.'”

Forming a partnership on Energy Blinds

Located near Toronto's Stockyards District, Morgan Solar started in 2007 as a solar technology company servicing primarily utility-scale projects.

In 2017, the company began to integrate solar photovoltaics into the built environment when it decided “making buildings more efficient was going to be a key component of the future of the energy mix,” according to chief technology officer John Paul Morgan, who also spoke with Sustainable Biz Canada.

Morgan Solar was tasked in 2021 by real estate company BGIS to improve energy efficiency in the C.D. Howe Building in Ottawa by automating the window blinds. Such a project required the use of Cisco’s PoE.

When Cisco got word of how Morgan Solar used its technology for the solution, it was impressed enough to ask how the system worked. It then recommended Morgan Solar apply for Cisco’s Fast Future Innovation Awards in 2022, which the company won.

“That’s what really enabled Cisco to unlock doing this pilot with us,” Morgan said. The effort started in February, and has evolved beyond an automated blinds system by also integrating solar panels.

The Cisco Innovation Labs, Cohen said, consist of an engineering team that cooperates with partners, customers and startups on technology and innovations. Cohen said the pilot with Morgan Solar is the first time the lab has progressed this far on a green project.

A brighter kind of blinds

Described by Morgan as resembling ordinary fabric Venetian blinds, clients see a “fabric finish that matches their décor” with the Energy Blinds. Cohen agreed, saying the Energy Blinds look like typical window coverings.

The exterior that faces the window looks like a black matte surface, except it absorbs sunlight to transform into electricity. The electricity can help power building operations or can be stored in a battery energy storage system for later use.

PoE distributes energy throughout a room and controls the blinds to maximize daylight by tracking the sun. Cisco’s Webex detects the occupancy of the room to determine when Energy Blinds should maximize solar production, or to allow light to stream in while blocking the glare.

Cohen said the power from Energy Blinds can be used for “anything we want”, and has been used to power the lighting and technology in the meeting room.

A reasonably sunny day will generate approximately 50 watts per window on average, he added.

The pilot will examine the energy savings on lighting and the energy generation of Energy Blinds. It will also monitor HVAC systems, as Energy Blinds allow for a more dynamic insulation performance by the windows, thus potentially reducing a building’s heating and cooling requirements.

Morgan also hopes to validate his company’s belief that optimizing daylight creates a healthier and more productive work environment.

Cisco is looking at how it can use its smart building technology to maximize energy capture and make its spaces as efficient as possible, Cohen said.

Morgan said Energy Blinds will also be used in a bigger pilot with Bank of Montreal’s Toronto office by the end of May, and the company is targeting the technology for commercial and institutional buildings.

“This is one tool in the tool-kit that we’re putting forward to developers and building owners to contemplate alongside, and make this an alternative to, more costly options like replacing the windows,” he said.

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