Market understanding, long term commitment and collaboration again emerge as the critical factors in successful innovation in the sector.
We caught up with Hamish Watson, inventor of the Polysolar Building Integrated Transparent Solar Glass. Polysolar has developed the world’s first completely transparent low-cost photovoltaic (PV) glazing that can generate electricity with around 20% light transmission in a completely transparent tinted glazing unit.
The technology evolved from Hamish’s experience in the organic electronics sector. He saw technical potential and crucially market demand for a transparent photovoltaic system. The market potential was the most critical factor as too often technologies fail because they do align with market needs.
The original vision of a totally transparent system is still being developed. However an interim tinted technology has been launched. Developing the final completely clear glass requires the development of new materials and processes, which requires considerably more development work.
Hamish cites finance as one of the biggest challenges, especially in tough economic times. Scarcity of funding has led Polysolar to do things slightly differently using leaner processes such as contracting out labs rather than developing their own.
Equally selling into a conservative market such as the construction sector proved difficult. Coming from outside of the sector Polysolar were surprised by how seemingly simple propositions were met with resistance. Polysolar have found the best method of implementing their innovation is to target the final client, who will be in a position to champion the innovation through the procurement process.
Government policy has considerable influence on both the building and renewable energy sectors. For innovators consistency across policies is critical to ensuring a clear direction of travel as policy tools such as Building Regulations and subsidies have a considerable influence on market demand.
Polysolar have been in receipt of a number of Collaborative R&D grants from the Technology Strategy Board. These have been tremendously helpful in establishing partnering arrangements and getting large corporations interested in the technology. The one point where they struggled as a start-up was finding match funding. A considerable proportion of UK innovation comes from start-ups and entrepreneurs and this should be nurtured. From Polysolar’s perspective innovation support has been much better from private sector organisations that are able to understand the commercial pressures and realities of doing business.
Hamish’s key advice to other innovators is not to expect success overnight. Selling out to Google for millions overnight is a myth; most innovators have been working hard for years on making their businesses and technologies a success.
Hamish stresses the importance of starting to sell product on the market as soon as possible, therefore generating income and increasing market understanding, hence the reasons behind the development of the tinted system. This relates equally to Intellectual Property, whilst it is valuable in attracting investors, its real value is only unlocked once you begin to exploit it commercially.
In common with other innovators Hamish stresses the importance of networking, talking to and learning from as many people as possible with relevant opinions in this space.
Polysolar is now developing a series of standardised products such as barns and commercial greenhouses. Creating standardised products can avoid some of the challenges associated with construction procurement and involvement in major projects.
The clear glass product is two years away from production. This technology will integrate much better with conventional systems and supply chains.