Discussing Building-Integrated Photovoltaic Glass with Vitro Architectural Glass' Emily Losego | cA Weekly Podcast Series - Full Transcript

June 16, 2021 - by commARCH
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Discussing Building-Integrated Photovoltaic Glass with Vitro Architectural Glass' Emily Losego | cA Weekly Podcast Series - Full Transcript

The following is a transcript of an episode of the commARCH Weekly Podcast Series.The full episode is available in video format on the commARCH site or in audio format on all major podcast platforms.

commARCH: Thanks for joining me.

Emily Losego: Absolutely. I'm happy to be here.

CA: So, I love your background. So: you started out as an architect. Then went to Vitro Architectural Glass at some point. But, what were you thinking when you're going to an architectural school? What were your goals and ambitions, and then how did you do the transfer to work at a building product manufacturer?

EL: So for me, my- I actually started working in firms when I was in high school, through, like, internship programs. So I had worked in a firm since I was about 16 and really liked the challenges of- the creativity, the analytical. So for me, that was the right path to go on in college. And then I went to grad school as well.

And then once I entered practice, I was very fortunate to land at a small residential and small commercial firm. So I got to do a lot of pieces of the business side, which I started to enjoy more than the architectural work itself. So that kind of set my- the trigger in my mind that there may be other ways that I want to spend my days.

And for me, I made the decision that I wanted to pivot to a building material. So, be related to the project, have a different seat at the table around architecture, but not be the architect- be in that architect seat. So I got very lucky being here in Pittsburgh, that our hometown manufacturer was PPG Glass.

So for me, I was able to make the pivot. And for me, I love glass. I can get really nerdy about glass it's- in architecture school, one of the first things you learn about is solid void: so, glass versus wall. So it's one of the Design 101 components. For me, I love that you can be like an inch away from a thunderstorm and be completely safe and comfortable- connects you emotionally and visually to the indoor-outdoor, the nature connection.

So I just- it's the best building material out of the whole project, right? There's, it's so cool what you can do with it, what architects are doing with it. So I got lucky that I could be in glass, but also contribute in ways to architectural projects through the way the building looks that—with curtain wall design, how that glass looks in the world—but then performance, because now there's also that energy savings, the sustainability, the performance side of the glass as well.

So it touches so many different aspects of the building's design that I just get jazzed that I still get to contribute to how projects work in the world and how we can make them better. And, you know, always-

CA: It's all about collaboration. Taking all that you know about the science of glass and allowing a vision that probably couldn't have been realized otherwise.

EL: Right! So, I feel like it's helping other architects--who are much better architects than I ever would have been on my own--but helping them understand what glass can do for their building and help their vision meet all their project goals and needs as well.
So that's one thing I love about glass. So I just got really lucky to be in this seat.

CA: Vitro, largest glass provider, I think in the-[overlapping]

EL: [overlapping]-glass manufacturer.

CA: Largest in the- in the world? [overlapping]

EL: [overlapping] In North America.

CA: In North America, and an innovator. When I think about though- Vitro, I think about low-e. So, there are a number of different products within that. So can you walk through what kind of offerings [overlapping] and collaborations?

EL: [overlapping] Yes! I'd be happy to! So, my current role with Vitro Architectural Glass is the MSVD Coated Product Manager.

So MSVD is what low-e coatings are, that's the technology: the Magnetron Sputtered Vacuum Deposition is actually the technology and the process to put the low-e coating onto the glass itself. So with an MSVD coating or low-e, we float the glass. So we're making sheets of glass, just similarly to like sheets of plywood or sheets of drywall in our plants.

And then what we do is we take that glass, we move it to our coaters, our MSVD coaters. And from there, we feed the glass through and in these different chambers, we put the glass under vacuum and that's where we deposit metallics of different- different layering and different thicknesses in order to get our Solarban Low-E coating product family. So Solarban is our family of low-e coatings. And that's really where we can take that glass and really boost that energy performance. And we do that, like I said- silver is the effective ingredient, that's what really gives us our solar control. And we see that through the solar heat gain coefficient.

With our Solarban low-e coatings- and that's something that we brought over when we became Vitro from PPG, everything that was PPG is just now Vitro's. So we're still making glass in the same plants, you're still working with the same people. We still have all the names. Solarban was--if you knew us as Solarban with PPG--you write down Solarban and you're just getting it from Vitro, now as our new lab, our new entity. But what's been really great, as you mentioned--innovation--once we became Vitro, [we] started to really invest in- in our glass business again--in which PPG, you may, a lot of architects may know them now as a paint company--and so when that transition was going on, PPG wanted to boost their paint portfolio.

And so with Vitro acquiring our glass business, they wanted to boost our glass performance. So within the first year we- we installed our jumbo coater down at our plant in Wichita Falls, under Vitro. That was their second- first day announcement, "We're now Vitro Glass: second day, we're putting in this coater."

So that opened up our, coating availability and offerings. We also- we actually just launched a brand new low-e coating just in February of this year, called Solarban R77. So this is our newest low-e coating offering. It's our mid-reflective, so it has an exterior reflectivity of 25%. So it's not a full mirror glass, but it's also not- it's a boost in exterior reflectivity [more] than our, kind of, workhorse products, but it also has a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.25, which allows it to be used anywhere in the country. That's going to meet your energy codes. It's going to exceed it in the north, but it's also going to meet it down in Florida, Texas, California, as there's a greater cooling demand climate [in that] range of the country. So we're really excited about Solarban R77.

CA: So, what are areas within the building envelope that are enhanced as a result of the technologies that maybe people don't necessarily think about when they're designing a building or considering what products are going to go into it.

EL: Yeah. So with so with our Solarban Low-E coatings, they live in the exterior envelope. And so, code right now requires at least a low-e coating between two pieces of glass. So you have that airspace for U-value, which is your heat transfer through the glass. The Low-E coating works best on the backside of the upward light. So we call that surface number two. And really we can- there's two elements to your glass design. There's the glass itself. So if you want clear glass--is the run of the mill, just clear--we also have low-iron glasses though. We have Starphire which is our Ultra-Clear, and we have our newest, which is Acuity, which is a low-iron designed to be paired with a Solarban Low-E coating. So you can get your aesthetics through the glass itself.

If you also want to use a tint: so a blue, a green, gray, or bronze, that's another way to affect your- the way the glass looks. But you can then boost that with the use of low-e coating. So I use- I call that the one-two punch, right? You can get some performance through the tint itself. So a great glass is going to block more heat from entering your building than a clear piece of glass, just based on the color itself.

So you have the glass--it's going to do some of the work--but then you have the low-e coating, that's really going to boost what your building's envelope can do. And that has great, you know-it works in conjunction and holistically with the electrical use of the building, right? If you can daylight and bring more natural light in, you're going to have less dependence on your overhead lighting and therefore use less electricity, which we love.

And also just the emotional benefits of daylighting and having that connection to the outdoor environment. But then we can also--depending on the Low-E coating and the performance of the building--we can really reduce how much of the out- exterior heat that is going to enter your interiors, therefore needing to be conditioned by your mechanical system.

So that 0.25 I mentioned, of the solar heat gain coefficient, for example. That means that only 25% of the sun's heat is going to make its way to the interior. So that's a- 75% of the heat that is not coming into your building, that you don't have to address with your mechanical system. So it's a really- it's probably the holistic approach to your systems. As you're working with engineers, your lighting design, your mechanical design, that's really where the glass envelope fits in: those design conversations and systems conversations.

CA: So an architect, the more they know about your types of products, the more engaged conversation they can have with an owner or developer about how this is going to work in overall performance and the longterm value.

EL: Absolutely, especially in the operating costs. So if we can have our own envelope of the building doing more of the work, that means that your systems inside don't have to do as much work, or they can potentially be downsized. So there is a upfront cost give-and-take that can be had as well as the long-term operating cost of that building as well.

So there is a benefit to the owner, to understand what the glass can do on the building itself and where that investment can be. If it's in the envelope--and let that envelope work all the time for you--or that decision is going to be made, that the mechanical system is going to have to do a little bit more work based on the envelope doing a little less; that's the holistic approach, with the glass design.

CA: That relationship with nature for occupants is a big draw. So I'm just assuming owners and developers want to hear about that too, because that's going to be more attractive to who's going to fill the building.

EL: Right, and especially different projects lend themselves to that connection in different ways. I know there's studies with hospitals, that patients will actually recover faster if they're exposed to natural light and having views of the outdoors. So that's one way- and employee productivity, if they can understand that a cloud--it's raining outside or that the daytime is passing--they're going to be more productive employees.

And then there's actually- you can extrapolate cost-benefits to having a daylit space and sustainability programs are recognizing this, like LEED and WELL. They have daylighting credits, in trying to promote the connection for the occupants to the outside, whether it's through natural light or that view connection sitting inside and being able to look out and what you're looking out at.

CA: What are some daylighting questions that you might find regularly that there's an information gap on?

EL: One that we come across a lot is the topic of glare. Which is interesting because on one side you want to say, "Let's bring in as much natural light as we possibly can." And what that translates to is a high number of visible light transmittance. So that percentage would say, "Okay, I'm going to be able to bring 60% of natural light in," and you go, "Oh, my, that's great, that's a lot of natural light." But, depending on the use, that might actually be too high because now you're creating high-contrast lighting conditions on your work surface. So while it might be great that you're bringing in all that light, it could mean that you're facing glare issues. So there is that balance of--or the building design opportunities--where you may actually want to bring your visible light down a little bit.

So that way, your occupants- you may not have those glare issues, but still giving those connections to the outside and having that glass available. So you're still able to look out and feel that the sun is out or that the sun is setting or that storm is going to come in. And that's really important just for us as humans understanding the environment we were in. You know, no one- people are a lot happier when they're connected to the outside. It's just who we are, it's in our- it's in our biology.

CA: All that you hit on is all the more reason why an architect should reach out to you earlier in the project, right? In that- in the predesigned phases to make sure that they're- they know how to do this right, using your technology.

Yes, no- and we have a network of--we call them NAMS: National Architectural Managers-- architects- and I know them, it's just their rep; but, we have a full nationwide network of reps that are available to learn about their project and help answer these questions and be educational resources to architects.

So that way they're- they're putting their spec together in the best way. They're understanding what products are available to meet their aesthetic needs and their performance needs. And one of the things that we really see as a value and as a resource to the architects is: a clean spec is going to lead to a cleaner bidding process, and you're going to get better numbers.

You're going to get- you're going to reduce time that if- we've seen specs that are just a copy paste from a little too long, right? Like the copy of a copy of a copy that you- we might see discontinued products that still live in spec. So what our NAMS are able to do is help those specifications list the appropriate products, make sure that also equivalents are listed apples-to-apples.

We also see a lot of specs where they might list our product against the non-equivalent from the competitors. So now that's gonna skew the bidding as well. And that's just going to add more time, more... maybe add another round of getting prices, getting questions, and then that's just- it makes the process harder to get true numbers back on the project to make those decisions as well.

Not only can our reps guide architects to make sure they're- they understand what's available, how to meet their aesthetic and performance needs, but also to make sure that it's being documented clearly to support them through that bidding phase. And then our reps also can tie the project to our network of customers to make sure that we're giving that spec the best chance to get spec- to get bid and- and sourced as well. Yeah.

CA: Good, great. Which, so, using at one point in time, an open mind to talk with one of the reps, get a fuller understanding, getting them engaged will save a tremendous amount of time later.

EL: Absolutely. It helps, yeah. We want to support the architects, but we also support our customers who buy from us. So that's our service to our customers in a way, that if we can help the specs that they are bidding on be cleaner and list the best- the products that the architects actually want on their projects, that just helps our supply chain.

It helps our customers who are fabricators. It helps their customers who are the glazing contractors. And then it's those glazing contractors that are preparing the bids for the construction managers for the general contractors. So we see it from both sides. So that's really- our team can also help connect architects to different performance charts and comparisons, and also our sample program as well.

CA: I think everybody is still getting their mind around PPG-Vitro. Vitro has done a really nice job of creating an innovative culture, not just in its products, but just- well, the products are the benefit of that culture. What are some examples of-

EL: -of innovation. Yeah. For me, it's really exciting because I'm working for a glass company again, when I was hired with PPG, it was like working for a paint company, but we're full-blown glass. That's our world again. Internally we've actually changed our structure. So the team I'm on is called Marketing and Innovation. And my team is charged with figuring out what we're going to bring next to the- to our product offerings. And one of the things I like to say is: when we became Vitro, our R&D team is really who won out in this, because a lot of projects that they had been innovating and working on, PPG wasn't interested in because they were interested in glass- or, I'm sorry, they're interested in paint.

So now, being under Vitro, our R&D team was able to take those projects off- dust them off, and revisit them. We've been really working in harmony with R&D- with our Marketing and Innovation team and R&D. So we're coming at it from both sides to bring better products and new products to our offering.

Internally we even opened up a Vitro Innovation Portal. So any employee--whether that's at a plant ,our R&D center, our glass technology center in Pittsburgh, anyone who's a field worker--anyone who's Vitro can submit their own ideas. So we're casting the net, that we want to hear from our colleagues or team members who work with glass in different ways every day, of how we can make it better for ourselves, for our customers, for the environment- for residential, commercial.

It's this- there's finally a portal in a way to be able to submit those ideas and they can come from anyone. So someone working at our manufacturing plant might say, "Why don't we do it this way?" And now we have a way to capture that and improve those processes as well. It's been really exciting that Vitro is- instilled it in different ways within our company culture, not to just say that we like innovation, but we're actually having the channels and teams and supporting that in place internally with how to actually achieve that. One of the-
CA: I'm sure that a new product or products coming out in February, just- it reinvigorates that too. And reassures that it's not a waste of time. This company is serious.

EL: Yeah. And one that we just launched, which is really exciting for us--and is really the true sense of innovation for us--is going into a new a new space for us- is our new Solarvolt product, which is BIPV, so building integrated photovoltaics. So this is something we haven't been able to offer before, we just launched it. We're really excited about this because this has taken us into another world of being able to generate electricity in our glass. And it's awesome, it's so cool. So what a BIPV is, our Solarvolt- it's actually a laminated glass. So we take the- the solar cells are sandwiched between two pieces of glass and they're all connected. So as the sun hits them, we're able to harness that energy and convert into electricity, but that can be used for vision glass, for safety glass applications, because it's laminated.

So it can be used on balustrades on patios, it can be used in skylight applications. It can be as a sunscreen element, but it's a way that we're able as a glass company to now also support the sustainable initiatives and to get back to your comment about like the owners and their investment in these buildings, this is a way to generate some cash, some savings, because it's- you can generate your own electricity.

So that's going to reduce your operating costs. So, with Solarvolt, what we really like is there's an ROI that can be calculated based on the design, that owners love to hear, who doesn't love to know when their investment is going to pay for itself?

CA: How was it captured?

EL: So we, the sol- we have, there's different patterns and there's different transparencies. So the solar cells are actually connected in the inner layer. So there's actually little- little wires that connect all the different solar cells, and the solar cells, they're about four-by-four. They can also be custom designed. So the amount of- if an architect can think it up, we can make it happen with our Solarvolt project.

So that- that glass is laminated together to protect the solar collectors within a laminated assembly. And there's still an inward light, so we're still getting our U-value. We're still incorporating- if it's an exterior vision application or an envelope application, we can still incorporate a Solarban Low-E coating, still get that installation with our U-value that we need.

And then that gets installed within a standard frame, so within a standard storefront or curtain wall. We also have applications of it as canopy elements. So freestanding elements that at an entry, let's say, that like you can drive your car under, that whole canopy system, because it's overhead glazing, it's required to be laminated anyway. So now that laminate can have the electricity generating technology within it as well. We're excited!

CA: So, more applications. So where are you seeing that it's being picked up the most and what types of buildings?

EL: So right now, because it's really new for us, it's only- we came out with it, I want to say, March 1st--somewhere earlier this year--we're seeing a lot of exterior overhangs right now. So those roof elements or shading devices. We do have projects that have used it as a spandrel, which is a really interesting application. So in your envelope, as you're passing by that floor plenum where you have your mechanical system, your ducts, your lighting--that you would just handle with a normal- either a silicone spandrel application or a ceramic frit--now you can put the Solarvolt there. So you now, instead of that area just being static, now you can actually have that as an active element of your building to generate- to capture the energy from the sun, but also still providing that opacifying need to not want to see all the guts of the building.

CA: So going back to, if you were still an architect, what are some of the buildings that you would start using this on? Cause I'm just thinking immediately: education, healthcare. I know office is a no-brainer.

EL: Yeah. I love the idea of it on a skylight because that's really where we talk a lot. We get- a lot of people need to bring light down to these large, cool interior spaces that start to go- are multi-story spaces and gathering and public spaces.

But what happens a lot with those, or that can happen as glare, again, because you're bringing a lot of light in and that can actually light the space too much. So to put the Solarvolt panels there, It brings your light transmission down. You're able to harness that electricity so I just think that's such a cool way to connect your interior spaces with the Solarvolt product, I love that. I just think that it makes so much sense to use it in that application. I also love the balustrades on a, like a- residential building because you need laminated glass there anyway. So why not let it do something? I just think it's such an interesting way to activate the glass in another way on your building.

CA: Yeah. I think then our role is to make sure the market understands that there are all these capacities and all these good things to start talking or thinking about with glass and how to- you're actually going to change how buildings are put together and how they're calculated.

EL:  I mean that's a really cool way to think about it. For us, we have- we have our network of reps, like I said, and they are huge resources and they know how to tie the architects and their questions to any support they need internally too. So we want to get those questions and that's really where the- as architects are thinking about it, these questions are coming up.

We really want to make sure that they're finding their rep. And we do have a map on our website. Top right hand corner says, "Find Your Rep," your architectural rep, and there you get their phone number and email. And especially now in the world that we're in, we want to make sure that- people are at their desk more, they're remote. So everyone's cell phones are on there, but also on our website to help navigate this process. We have our online tools that can be really big assets if you know enough and you want to answer some questions on your own, or if you need questions answered and it's late at night and your rep might be snoozing away.

We have our construct calculator, which is a really cool tool to do a comparison of different configurations side-by-side. So in our construct tool, you actually pick your- the glass, your upward light, the low-e coating, how big your airspace is, is there argon? Is there not- your inward light. Is there frit? Is it just clear glass? You pick your elements and you can generate a table, so you can put side-by-side, like, the lights or the- your insulated glass units that you're considering. And that can become a really great tool to have in one place, what those performances are, and not have to go to different places and try to pick it all out. That construct tool is used quite a bit and it's really helpful.

CA: Well, some of the times, when you're designing something, you don't want to be slowed up with the conversation. So if I could just grab what I need and make some assumptions and then have it proofed afterwards...?

EL: Right? Just keep it going. So we also have a search tool, where if you know where your solar heat gain should be- a range, if you want exterior reflectance, there's a bunch of dials on the margin. So you pick: I want clear, blue, bronze, you pick the aesthetic, you pick those performances and it'll narrow down and say, "These are the glasses that meet your criteria."

So then that can be really helpful too, like you said, "I need a starting point. I know this little bit of information. What does that do to help me understand what my options are at that point?" Those are both available on our website, that are really great resources for architects as well.

CA: Great. And it just seems easy to engage Vitro in a project because you have all these different touch points.

EL: Yeah, we even have chats. So if you're on our website and our chat agents are online, you can just shoot a message and say, "This is what I need help with," and that takes you to our architectural services team. And they're able to answer your questions as well.

CA: Perfect. Thank you so much, Emily. This is great.

EL: No, it's been a pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to share more about Vitro Architectural Glass.

CA: Exciting. Thanks.

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