You probably know that I now spend most of my time running our little technology startup company Close Comfort. We recently passed a significant milestone with over 1000 of our energy-saving air conditioners sold to happy customers.
It all started with my marriage to wonderful wife and partner Samina Yasmeen. Living with her Pakistan family brought summer reality.
Two billion people South Asia dread the summer. Shimmering heat starts in March and April and stifling sweaty nights last into November. Listless days follow nights of fitful sleep at 40C under noisy fans. A tiny privileged elite run energy guzzling split air conditioners, crippling electricity grids.
Load shedding, a novelty in Australia, is routine across south Asia and Africa: power is on and off every hour or two. Batteries keep fans and LED lights on but the unit electricity cost soars.
Sustainable relief from heat and humidity is now in sight thanks to our energy-saving air conditioning technology. It’s a great thrill that our air conditioners are now in 5 countries, albeit with small-scale marketing campaigns.
Our tiny Perth start-up, Close Comfort, launched the first compact portable ACs in Pakistan in April 2016. With nearly 1,000 sold there, and more since in Australia, India, Singapore and Indonesia, Close Comfort is evolving into a global firm, and we are now courting international investors.
Like all inventions, inspiration comes with lots of perspiration, real and financial.
The key breakthrough came from human physiology and subjective perception, combined with tricky thermo-fluid mechanics in the unpredictable transition zone between turbulent and laminar flow. Collaborating with experienced Chinese manufacturers helped us evolve a compact portable product.
No government, let alone aid funding, can transform life for billions struggling with hot, sweaty nights and soaring energy costs. Creating a better life for everyone can only happen with affordable products that people invest in themselves.
We are just about there now: about 40% of people in Pakistan and India can afford our ACs. Sales are taking off because we have reduced the cost of refreshing air conditioned sleep from US$250 a month down to about $10. There are more benefits too. People sleep with fresh air, not stale recirculated air from a split AC. Our products work equally well during the day, in any building, with no modifications, even outside. People don’t lose their natural heat acclimatization so they feel more energetic. Our customers tell us they’ve never had such a refreshing carefree sleep in years.
The air conditioners are really simple and easy to carry as well. There’s no need for exhaust and drain pipes, no installation, and no consumables. All they need is AC electric power, through an inverter if running on a battery.
Our energy-saver ACs, adopted on a wide scale, could cut forecast global greenhouse emissions by a whopping 15% by the end of this century. That’s based on recent forecasts cited in IPCC reports (see for example: Isaac, Morna, and Detlef P Van Vuuren. 2009. “Modeling global residential sector energy demand for heating and air conditioning in the context of climate change.” Energy policy 37 (2):507-521. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2008.09.051.) Our ACs have hermetically sealed refrigeration circuits eliminating leakage which is common with split ACs.
We are starting on another breakthrough technology: affordable piped safe drinking water. Today, billions struggle to survive because they have to carry their drinking water. Water utilities across the developing world are failing, even with aid funding, because 19th century technology collapses in the complexities of low-income societies. We are creating 21st century technology that, like mobile phones, will lead to financially sustainable piped water systems that work everywhere.
New technologies can transform our world. However, governments are struggling even to maintain the status-quo, and there’s little or no capacity for aid funding.
Therefore, we have to find ways to introduce new technologies that bypass governments, while respecting existing regulations.
There are ways to do that. I am fortunate to have the support that makes it possible, and there’s nothing more satisfying than receiving so much sincere appreciation from our customers.