Startup of the Week: Saudi solar energy startup has clear vision for buildings of the future

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The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings. (Arab News photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings. (Arab News photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings. (Arab News photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings. (Arab News photo by Huda Bashatah)
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The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings. (Photo supplied)
Updated 12 November 2019

Startup of the Week: Saudi solar energy startup has clear vision for buildings of the future

  • The entrepreneurs strongly believe that the world is in dire need of energy and are trying to bring innovative solutions to Saudi Arabia

An innovative Saudi-based solar windows startup has set its sights on solving the world’s growing demand for clean energy sources.  
Called iyris, the award-winning company, incubated by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), has been set up to create special, high-tech glass that blocks heat, saves energy and produces electricity.
Four solar energy experts, Prof. Derya Baran, Dr. Daniel Bryant, Dr. Nicola Gasparini and Dr. Joel Troughton, are the co-founders and brains behind the enterprise.
“We’re bringing viable, sustainable and renewable solutions to this big problem, trying to find green alternatives,” said Baran, an assistant professor of material science and engineering at KAUST.
“We (iyris) are focusing on energy harvesting devices with an aim to convert sunlight, which is free and available everywhere especially in areas like Saudi Arabia, into a form of electricity,” she added.
The entrepreneurs strongly believe that the world is in dire need of energy and are trying to bring innovative solutions to Saudi Arabia.
Baran said iyris was a “very exciting dream” that started in her laboratories at KAUST. “The team and I were working on solar energy-related issues, and we came up with the idea behind our startup, as our findings can be a viable solution to the energy problems of the future.”


The startup produces transparent solar photovoltaics (PV) for future buildings and greenhouses in order to generate electricity from windows that can also block heat and be used as a power source.
A number of names inspired by the desert were first considered for the company, but then the team came up with the idea of iris, the membrane behind the cornea of the eye. “As a science team, we ended up putting a ‘y’ in there, which is the opposite of lamda, a Greek unit for ‘wavelength of the light,’ so it defines that you see true with your eyes, and it’s about the light,” said Baran.
KAUST solar center researcher Gasparini pointed out the difference between the firm and its competitors. “It’s a transparent solar technology different from conventional photovoltaics which are opaque, while iyris allows any window to generate electricity.”
Troughton said: “Because iyris is built into the envelope of the building, installation costs are much lower than traditional PV technologies.”
He added that projects like iyris were important for the environment because they allowed electricity to be generated, free from greenhouse gas emissions, right where the electricity was going to be used. In a sense, he said, the outside of a building became its own power station.
The company’s products will be targeted particularly at high-rise buildings and agricultural greenhouses in warm-climate areas such as the Middle East and North Africa.
“We are currently working very hard to commercialize this technology and we expect it to hit the market within the next couple of years,” said Troughton.
Bryant, iyris’ chief operating officer, said that KAUST helped with the initial development of the company by providing labs and facilities within the entrepreneurship center, and the university continued to support the venture’s development.
Last year iyris won in the second cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator Program in KAUST, sponsored by SABB bank, and was recently awarded seed funding to begin its product development phase.


Riyadh governor opens high-profile Saudi economic forum

Updated 22 January 2020

Riyadh governor opens high-profile Saudi economic forum

RIYADH: A high-profile conference to tackle some of the main challenges facing the Saudi economy was on Tuesday opened by Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar.

Speaking at the opening session of the influential three-day Riyadh Economic Forum (REF), the prince praised the Saudi business community for its cooperation with the government in helping to strengthen the country’s economic fortunes.

The ninth edition of the forum, being held under the title “Human-Centered Economy,” will discuss some of the key future economic issues confronting the Kingdom.

Thanking King Salman for his patronage of the event, vice chairman of Riyadh Chamber and chairman of the forum’s board of trustees, Hamad Al-Shuwaier, said important recommendations linked to the Vision 2030 plan would be announced during the gathering.

These would be related to the areas of public finance reform, the nonprofit sector, future jobs, the environment, and reverse migration.

“What distinguishes the forum, which serves as a research center for national issues, is its focus on the principle of dialogue and participation between all concerned, specialized and responsible parties within the economic and social community, by intensifying meetings and promoting participation in all study discussions, with the aim of touching barriers in a close and intensive manner.

“Accurately diagnosing the facts gives accurate results when identifying solutions,” he added.

Special sessions of the forum will aim to generate practical suggestions and solutions to help with economic decision-making and to establish the principle of dialogue and participation among sectors of the business community.

In July 2019, the REF held a panel discussion at the chamber’s Riyadh headquarters on a study detailing the role of balanced economic development in reverse migration and sustainable and comprehensive development in the Kingdom.

Its focus was to identify the obstacles preventing the movement of young workers between towns and big cities, as well as highlighting ways to improve the quality of life in small urban centers through an analytical survey of industrial and service resources in different regions.

Al-Shuwaier noted that the forum was special in bringing together a broad range of intellectual and practical minds from government and private sector organizations covering many fields.

He added that the chamber was working on the final touches to transforming the forum into an independent economic think tank that served national economic issues.

Ajlan Al-Ajlan, chairman of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), which organized the event, said the forum’s main objectives included using scientific studies and methodology to identify issues affecting the national economy, analyzing constraints on economic growth and working to combat them by learning from the experiences of other countries.

He pointed out that the forum coincided with the Kingdom’s presidency of the 2020 G20 summit of global leaders, being held in Riyadh in November, and that the eyes of the world would be on Saudi Arabia.

The forum is one of the participants in T20, an official G20 engagement group, with four topics related to important sectors discussed by the group.

The opening ceremony of the REF was followed by a session on future jobs, administered by Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh. Delegates discussed employment requirements linked to the fourth industrial revolution and how to tackle the prospect of 40 percent of jobs becoming obsolete due to mechanization in the farming and industrial sectors.

The session highlighted that education should go hand in hand to prepare students for the jobs of the future.

Forum data showed its previous eight sessions attracted 33,938 attendees, an average of 4,243 participants per session.