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Courtesy of Schindler Elevator Corp.

As early as 2015, people may have the opportunity to ride a solar energy–powered elevator in a U.S. commercial building. Washington, D.C.–area real estate firm Akridge is teaming up with the Switzerland-based Schindler Elevator Company to bring the solar elevator, already used in Europe, to the United States.

Schindler, which says it moves a billion people a day on its elevators and escalators, recently introduced the solar elevator, powered by rooftop solar panels and able to function separately from a city’s power grid. The solar panels capture energy and store it in batteries, allowing the elevator to operate at night or during a power outage. A prototype is currently running in a low-rise residential building in Barcelona, Spain.

By the end of this year, the elevator will be available in India and other locations in Europe, and Schindler hopes to put the elevators on the U.S. market by 2015. The elevator is part of Schindler’s effort to create more efficient and environmentally friendly ways to move people, said Frank Resch, research and development chief at Schindler.

Akridge has said that as soon as the solar elevator is available in the United States, it will be one of the first developers to install one in its buildings. Though the companies have no official deal, they have been working together for years to put advanced elevator technology in Akridge’s buildings in Washington, said Tommy Russo, chief technology officer of Akridge.

Schindler’s elevators use space more efficiently than do conventional elevators because they do not require large equipment rooms, leaving more leasable space, says Russo. Schindler can also adapt solar technology to power existing Schindler elevators. The price of the solar elevator depends on many factors, including the number of floors in the building, said Chris Smith, director of marketing for Schindler. The elevator also can operate on solar power some of the time and on conventional power the rest of the time, which can affect the price.

The Schindler/Akridge partnership was discussed at a press conference in June at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, during a visit of the Solar Impulse solar-powered plane to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

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The Solar Impulse making it’s way from Washington to New York.Schindler, a partner in the Solar Impulse project, was inspired to create the solar elevator by the renewable technology used by the solar plane. Practical applications of renewable energy are what drive Schindler’s partnership with Solar Impulse, said Bill Fiacco, president of sales and marketing for Schindler in North America. The Solar Impulse completed a cross-country journey from San Francisco to New York, with four stops in between, when it landed at John F. Kennedy Airport on July 6.

Bertrand Piccard, chairman of the Solar Impulse project and pilot of the plane touring the continent, believes the popularity of solar technology has been hindered by a lack of pioneering spirit, fear of the unknown, and resistance to change by consumers. “Until a few years ago, the protection of the environment was expensive and boring,” said Piccard. He praised companies like Schindler that have worked to get such technology out of the labs and on the market.

Andrew Borshberg, Piccard’s fellow pilot and CEO of the Solar Impulse project, has confidence in Schindler’s efforts to market solar-powered elevators. “If you look at these technologies today, they slowly find their way to the marketplace,” he said. “They are profitable for the buyers, and that’s what’s important.”